Sunday, January 31, 2010


It is nice to get back on line, nearly 24 hours without any electronic contact with friends and relatives is a harrowing experience.

There have been numerous articles about the appeal of Nordic crime fiction in the main stream media some of which have been quite funny.
Thanks to Barbara Fister and Maxine of Petrona [who both produce superb blogs that are required reading for anyone with the slightest interest in Scandinavian crime fiction] for pointing out an article where the writer's examples of British crime fiction were 'Conan Doyle and Christie and more recently P.D. James and Ruth Rendell'.
Ruth Rendell 'more recently' first brought us Reg Wexford in the days when I could walk up Bristol's Park Street [Crime Fest visitors will know what I mean] without needing a team of paramedics.
Obviously some of these main stream media writers need to get out more.

So many articles ask the question: Why is Scandinavian Crime Fiction so popular?
This always reminds me of the history exam question set to students in a high school in Atlanta:
Why did the South lose the Civil War?
Most of the class wrote reams and reams on the military, economic, social, political and demographic reasons, apart from one student who answered with one sentence.
'I think the Yankee Army had something to do with it'.

Scandinavian crime fiction is popular because it features good writing, usually excellent translation, well thought out plots and interesting characters.
The difference in location is merely an extra bonus to these basics in my opinion.
The main stream media seem to still regard Sweden as some sort of bizarre mixture of fictional Midsomer, and scenic Stow in the Wold, with snow, and absolutely no real life crime.
This despite the fact that in the real world Sweden has the distinction of having had two major politicians assassinated in fairly recent times; Olaf Palme in 1986 and Anna Lindh in 2003.

They also try and link all Scandinavian crime fiction under one 'gloomy' banner, when in reality Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Stieg Larsson, Leif Davidsen, Liza Marklund, Camilla Lackberg, Helene Tursten, Karin Alvtegen, Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl for instance are all very different writers, and write very different books.

Looking at The Local Sweden's News in English just over the past week gave me an insight into modern Sweden as I discovered these headlines.

Married couple fund dead in cellar
Taxi driver charged with raping customer
Politician caught with chid pornography stash
Fatal shooting in central Malmo
Tourist wounded in Malmo shooting
Ex-Police Chief remanded in sex ring probe and Ex-Police Chief arrested for rape
Police shoot student at Swedish college

I am being little unfair quoting all these, but globalization increasingly means that all major cities have similar problems whether they are in the USA, Scandinavia, Australasia or Asia. Crime fiction writers will have to rely less on supposedly exotic location details and concentrate more on plot and characters.
The successful ones already do this, but add in the extra details of history and culture in an almost seamless fashion.

Friday, January 29, 2010


The future looks bright for for fans of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole books from the information in the first newsletter of 2010 sent out by the Salomonsson Agency.

Nemesis [Harry Hole no. 4] has been nominated for an Edgar award for Best Novel. The Edgar is arguably the most prestigious crime writing award in the world. It is presented by the Mystery Writers of America, which is "the premier organization for mystery and crime writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and folks who just love to read crime fiction."

We are still waiting for The Snowman [Harry Hole no. 7] to be published in English, but the newsletter teases us by going on to say.

The Leopard [Harry Hole no.8] was published in Norway in 2009, outselling Dan Brown and Henning Mankell by far.
In the words of one Norwegian critic [ABC Nyheter]:

"This is not only Norway's best crime novel. It may be the world's best."
The Leopard will be out in Germany next month.

Here is a taster of The Leopard:

Two women are found murdered in Oslo-both of them have drowned in their own blood. What mystifies the police, is that the puncture wounds in the victim's faces have been caused from the the inside of their mouths. Kaja Solness from Oslo Homicide is sent to Hong Kong to track down a man that is the Oslo Police Department's only specialist on serial killings. The severely addicted detective has tried to disappear in the vast, anonymous city. He is on the run and haunted by his last case, the woman he loves, and creditors alike. His name is Harry Hole.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I was extremely honoured this week to receive a Kreativ Blogger award not once but twice; once from the charming Dorte of DJS Krimiblog in Denmark, and another from the equally charming Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.
Both these ladies have wonderful blogs; Margot has an encylopaedic knowledge of crime fiction, and Dorte incredibly blogs in two languages [English and Danish] at the same time, and has even translated from a third [Swedish] when requested.

Why do we read, and why do we blog?
Because it takes us away from the problems that life throws up, and into very different worlds. At the moment I am reading a book set in Communist Shanghai as part of my Global Challenge 2010, and I have learned that people there faced problems that were far greater than ever dreamed of by the Western liberals, who wore Mao T-shirts in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yu Guangming and Jing Peiqin, though too young to be Red Guards, found themselves labelled as educated youths, despite the fact they had received little education, with copies of the shining red Quotations of Chairman Mao as their textbook. As educated youths, they, too had to leave Shanghai to "receive education in the countryside." They were to go to an army farm in Yunnan province, on the southern China/ Burma border.

.......because while their status was still recorded as single, for them to move back to Shanghai. According to government policy, the educated , once married , had to settle in the countryside.
They missed Shanghai.

Monday, January 25, 2010


My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is O is for Old Flames.

Old Flames is the fourth book chronologically in the Troy novels series by John Lawton.

In Old Flames Frederick Troy, now a Chief Inspector has moved on to 1956 where an impoverished Britain faces the problem of a state visit by Marshal Bulganin and First Secretary Nikita Khruschev. This is the height of the Cold War and Russian speaking Troy is co-opted to be part of the team providing security to the visitors.

'I won't spy on Marshal Bulganin.'
'I told yer,' muttered Cobb.
'But I will spy on Khruschev.'

Troy travels to Portsmouth to meet up with the Russians, who are arriving by battleship, and over breakfast he meets Arnold Cockerell, a furniture salesman.

'I'm in sales myself,' Cockerell began. 'Just another working day for me, another early start. Still, it's the early bird catches the worm.'

There turns out to be more to Cockerell than selling sofas, and what starts out as a spy story involving a tour round East End pubs with Krushchev, and meeting up with an old flame, Larissa Tosca ex -US Army, and possibly ex-KGB, develops into a complex hunt for a ruthless killer.

I am a total fan of the Troy series and the only thing stopping me devouring the remaining two books in the series is I can't bear the thought of not having a Troy on the TBR shelf.
With most of the characters from Blackout returning, including Kolankiewicz [the most foul-mouthed, bloody-minded, cantakerous creature to walk the earth], Larissa, Jack Wildeve, and Onions, this is another brilliant portrait of Britain at the height of its post war gloom. The 1950s were the era for many of paraffin stoves, outside toilets, fog, bomb sites and holidays hop picking in Kent, or on the beach at Margate.
John Lawton, who calls his books a 'social history of my time', brilliantly captures the essence of those bleak years with shortish but very evocative sentences.

'The small dining room was full. Men with moustaches. Men in brown suits, who all seemed to know each other, and to be deeply submerged in greasy eggs, greasy bacon, greasy, milky tea and knowing shop talk. A smell of stale tobacco and hair oil glided across the worst that breakfast could exhale.'

The blending of real life characters and events within the fictional story is achieved smoothly and the whole book was just a pleasure to read.

I was on the lookout for the trademark Lawton deliberate mistake, and found it buried on page 324.

'He bought me a martini and I was desperate for a ciggy by then, and he took out two from his cigarette case, put them in his mouth, just like Humphrey Bogart. Lit up both and passed one to me. I thought that was so good mannered. So romantic.'

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name mentioned recently that in the Swedish Wallander TV series Krister Henriksson was superb as Wallander, but it was the excellent supporting cast of Johanna Sallstrom as Linda, and Ola Rapace as Stefan that really made the series.
The theme of co-operative teamwork in a police procedural was also mentioned by Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders in relation to his first foray into the Martin Beck series, Roseanna.

The concept of having a team of characters allows the author much greater scope in delving into the personal lives of the protagonists and contrast their lives and investigative techniques.
All investigators have their strengths, for instance in the Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries, one of my favourite team police procedural series, Catarella is not the sharpest pencil in the box.

'Hey, Cat, you still there?'
'Yes, sir , Chief, I ain't budged. I'm still here. I's jes thinkin'.'
A good three minutes passed.
'Try to think a little faster,Cat.'
[from Excursion to Tindari]

But when it comes to computers, and having friends who are useful, Catarella is an ace performer.

'Cat, do you know you are brilliant?'
'For as how the way I 'splained what that Dr Latte wit' an s at the end said?'
'No, because you managed to open the second file.'
'Ahhh, Chief! I straggled all night wit' it! You got no idea what kinda trouble I had! 'It was a past word that looked like one past word but rilly was --'
'Tell me about it later, Cat.'
[from The Paper Moon]

This is one of the outstanding teams in crime fiction with Catarella, Mimi Augello, Fazio, and Swedish blonde Ingrid, when Montalbano needs some fast driving, all featuring regularly in the books.

As a team they are possibly up there with Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck, Lennart Kollberg, Gunvar Larsson, Einar Ronn and Benny Skacke, or Ed McBain's Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Cotton Hawes and Arthur Brown.

Which is your favourite team of more than three detectives in a crime fiction series? Do you like the same detective to feature as the lead in each book, or do you like a variation in who plays the major part in an investigation?

Friday, January 22, 2010


Information via the Rap Sheet that A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell has been nominated for the Bruce Alexander Historical Award [for an historical mystery set before 1950].
You can read all my posts about this book and my interview with Rebecca by clicking here and scrolling down.


Whenever I start a long book by an author I have never read before there is always that niggling worry that I will not enjoy it, but feel some obligation to struggle through to the end. I know many bloggers who say life is too short to waste on books you are not enjoying, but perhaps you have to experience the 'downs' in life, and reading, to fully appreciate the 'ups'.
Yesterday I started reading a thick book and there are certain clues that I will enjoy it, for instance this passage:

'For the main dishes, there were chunks of pork stomach on a bed of green napa, thin slices of smoked carp spread on fragile leaves of jicai, and steamed peeled shrimp with tomato sauce. There was also a platter of eels with scallions and ginger, which he had ordered from a restaurant. He had opened a can of Meiling steamed pork, and added some green vegetables to make it another dish. On the side, he placed a small dish of sliced tomatoes, and another of cucumbers.'

No prizes for guessing on which continent this book is set.

.....he saw a girl selling big bowls of tea on a wooden bench. No more than thirteen or fourteen, she sat quietly on a low stool wearing her pony tail tied with a girlish bow, reading a book.......
just a kid from the village, still small and innocent, reading against the idyllic background- perhaps a poetry collection in her hand, providing a convenience to thirsty travelers who might pass by.
...... He also asked for a big bowl of tea.
"Three cents," the girl said, without looking up from her book.
"What are you reading?"
"Visual Basics."

[Photographs taken in Cambodia by my son]

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I am always on the lookout for amusing snippets in crime fiction books. Sometimes I am not sure whether the snippet was intended to be funny as in The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards, which I reviewed here.

'The late Mr Blacon, who had lured her to the Lakes from her native Leyburn, had passed away thirty years ago, but he'd made a packet from a dental practice in Windermere and left her well provided for.'

OK, that might only seem funny to someone with 35 years experience of dental practices.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is N for Nemesis and Nesbo.

The Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo is one of Europe's top crime writers and has an excellent website here.

The phenomenal success of Jo Nesbo's books is based on stunning plot twists, and the fascinating lead protagonist and anti-hero Harry Hole; someone you can't help liking even though he has more than his fair share of problems.
Four of the Harry Hole books have been brilliantly translated into English by Don Bartlett. Here I should issue a warning if you are ever getting Don to sign a book. Keep you wits about you, or you may be knocked off your feet by crowds of his female admirers.

The seventh Harry Hole, The Snowman is published this year in English.
Since that post the eighth Harry Hole, The Leopard was published in Norway and jumped straight to number one in the best sellers.
The first two books in the series have not been translated into English.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Guy Koenig, a drifter, who lives on his wits and his ability to con money out of vulnerable women has returned to Coniston in the Lake District. He takes lodgings with Sarah, a sad middle aged woman with a run down guest house, and a secret of her own.
It is ten years since Emma Bestwick has walked out of her cottage and never been seen again, and local journalist Tony Di Venuto writes an article on the anniversary of her disappearance. Guy reads the article and for his own reasons decides to anonymously inform Di Venuto that firstly Emma will not return, and then later where her body can be found.
DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team, is instructed by her public relations conscious superior ACC Lauren Self to re-open the investigation.
While Hannah begins to question those connected with Emma's past, her friend historian Daniel Kind, son of her old boss Ben, is researching details of John Ruskin's time in the Lakes. Daniel's relationship with his glamourous blonde partner Miranda has become strained, because she feels isolated in the Lake District which she now considers a backwater.

How did Emma come into money before she disappeared? Why did Guy meet Emma near the Arsenic Labyrinth, and is this old mine involved in an older mystery? Why is Emma estranged from her sister Karen Erskine?

This is the third book in the Lake District series by Martin Edwards, that features DCI Hannah Scarlett, and historian Daniel Kind.
It is a classic whodunit, within a modern rural setting, and is just the sort of book that first drew me into crime fiction
The plot is complex, and early on I drew a simple little diagram to show the relationships between the characters, some of which proved merely skillful red herrings. The excellent plot involves slowly uncovering the personal histories of numerous suspects, and their relevance to past and present crimes.
This is top quality crime writing which beautifully evokes the atmosphere of the Lakes, and importantly the sharply defined characters have the type of credible interrelationships that develop in small communities.
The chemistry between Hannah and Daniel adds yet another level of tension to the story, and hopefully this will be further explored in the next book in the series The Serpent Pool due out soon.
This was such a gripping and fascinating read that, until I reached the end, I did not realise it was over 400 pages in length.
I will definitely be on the look out for more books by Martin Edwards.

This was the second book I read for the European section of Dorte's Global Challenge 2010.

Friday, January 15, 2010


You can see all the Euro Crime reviewers Top Reads of 2009 here.

My own translated crime fiction choices had a distinctly Northern European bias.

Best translated crime fiction read in 2009:

I also read an exceptional book about the lives of ordinary people living in Nazi Germany:

This masterpiece written in 1947 while not strictly crime fiction was by far the most moving book I read this year and deserves a special mention.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Inspector Costas Haritos is on medical leave after being shot, but when Jason Favieros a leading businessman commits suicide during a TV interview he begins to fret at his enforced rest, and the boredom. Then Stefanakos, a well known politician, also commits suicide in public. A fanatical right wing organization the Philip of Macedon National Greek Front claim responsibility, and Haritos along with the attractive young policewoman Koula begins an unofficial investigation of Favieros and Stefanakos and their business dealings.
Haritos is concerned that while he is on leave his position as Head of Homicide will be given to the incompetent Yanoutsos, mainly because his superior Ghikas is being overruled by those above him.
Their investigation will involve Olympic building projects, various dealing in the Balkans, exploitation of immigrants, corruption and complex Greek politics going back to the time of the Junta [1967-1974].

Author Petros Markaris was born in Istanbul in 1937 and now lives in Athens. Two other Inspector Haritos Mysteries have been translated into English from the Greek by David Connolly, The Late Night News [Deadline in Athens in the USA] and Zone Defence.

The best parts of this book are the descriptions of the home life of Haritos and his wife Adriani. Their marital squabbles are a pleasant interlude from the heat of Athens and the business and politics. Koula learns from Adriani how to cook during the time she is meant to be assisting Haritos, and Adriani regrets that her own daughter Katerina, a trainee lawyer, in a relationship with successful young doctor Fanis hasn't got a clue in the kitchen. It is all a charming contrast to the rest of the convoluted plot.

Where the book began to lose me was that there were a plethora of descriptions of traveling round Athens featuring long Greek street names.

'When I reached the junction at Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue, I wondered whether it would be better to turn left towards Syntagma Square or right towards Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and take Soutsou Street out into Alexandras Avenue.'

A portion of the book discusses the problem of immigration into Greece from the Balkans. The rather unwieldy term 'Russo-Pontian' is used frequently to describe one group. These people are ethnic Greeks who fled to Russia during the events at the end of the First World War that led to the destruction of Smyrna in 1922, and those who may have lived in the South East Black Sea region for generations. They speak either Russian, or a Pontic dialect of Greek incomprehensible to other Greeks. They are treated rather like the Epirots, who are regarded as ethnic Greeks when doing well, but become Albanians if they get into trouble with the police.

I tried the second floor and this time I found myself facing a Muslim woman, her head covered by a scarf, in that oven of a place. She didn't understand either what I was asking her. At the third attempt, I came across Bulgarian woman, who spoke a couple of words of Greek: 'Don't know.'
It was pointless to go on.

Che Committed Suicide is an interesting read, and Costas Haritos and Adriani are a lovable couple, but the book was rather long winded and would have benefited from much stricter editing.
This book was read as the first European part of Dorte's Global Challenge 2010.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Val McDermid wins the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger.

The photograph shows Val signing her latest book for me at the 1st Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. Here was another crime fiction writer able to charm an audience and keep them fascinated for over an hour with her anecdotes.

Monday, January 11, 2010


My contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise which has resumed after a holiday break is M for Morris.

R.N. [Roger] Morris writes an intriguing historical crime fiction series featuring the detective from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Porfiry Petrovich.
On his web site here there is a store of information about his books with links to articles on his Debt to Dostoevsky posted on The Rap Sheet. From this I learned that the superbly scruffy TV character Lieutenant Columbo, played so brilliantly by Peter Falk, was based on Porfiry Petrovich.
I have not read the first book in the series, A Gentle Axe [2007] but I reviewed number two, A Vengeful Longing [2008] for Euro Crime, and am eagerly awaiting A Razor Wrapped in Silk due out this year.

A Gentle Axe. This excellent review by Crimeficreader introduced me to this series.

From my review:
Historical crime mystery that captures both the feel and atmosphere of 19th century Russia as a decaying Kafka-esque empire waiting for revolution.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The rest of the answers to the Winter Quirky Quiz.

6] What is the link between a bird of the Icteridae family with yellow and black plumage, metal drawn out to be thin and flexible, and three roses and a bottle of cognac?

Baltimore, of course. The bird the Oriole eponym of the city's baseball team; the metal drawn out is The Wire, that wonderful TV series; and the cognac and roses are the items left on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

7] What is the nominal connection between the discoverer of the secret of life, an Italian navigator, a transcontinental expedition leader, and an English seaside town? And who were their colleagues?

This was another slightly tricky one, but easy once you got the idea.

Discoverer of the secret of life:
Francis Crick and James Watson would naturally lead to Dr John Watson and his colleague Sherlock Holmes.

Italian navigator:
When the answers came in I learned there was a detective series featuring an assistant called Amerigo Vespucci, but what I really wanted was Giovanni Caboto [ John Cabot] and then a connection to Annie Cabbot, and her colleague Alan Banks in Peter Robinson's long running series.

a transcontinental expedition leader:
Lewis and Clark. Meriweather Lewis leads on to Morse and Lewis Colin Dexter's contrasting detectives.

an English seaside town:
Obviously this was Hastings. Captain Hastings and Agatha Christie's unique detective Hercule Poirot.

8] Name a crime writer who was born in Malaya in 1907, and a crime writer who lives in Thailand?

Christianna Brand, and either Colin Cotterill [or Dean Barrett].

9] What sort of co-operation might mysteriously involve a lonely American jockey, Royal cousins, single colloquial nightwear, and a Gallic pseudonym?

I was rather proud of this question, described as devilish by one entrant, and I thought worthy of someone like Endeavour Morse.
The co-operation is co-authorship by family members.

The lonely American jockey is Todd Sloan from which the cockney rhyming slang 'on your todd' derives. The crime writing duo of Charles Todd is in fact the mother and son Caroline and Charles Todd.

Royal cousins, are cousins Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay who wrote as Ellery Queen.

Single colloquial nightwear, are pyjamas, PJs, single PJ and P.J.Tracy, who are mother and daughter Patricia and Traci Lambrecht.

The Gallic pseudonym, are husband and wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.

10] Who are these ladies?

a) Dulcie Duveen- Captain Hasting's wife, whom he met in Murder on the Links.
b) Mary Marston- Dr Watson's wife.
c) Ellen Gjelten- Harry Hole's colleague and friend in The Redbreast.
d) Nancy Neele- the real life mistress of Archie Christie.
e) Cynthia Murdoch- she rejected Captain Hastings proposal of marriage in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Well all finished and the prize winners notified. I hope this quiz provided some amusement and brain training for you, and my tired old brain will be searching for new questions to set in a Spring Quiz in a few months time.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


By the way this is post number 900 since September 2006!
The photo is very old but the weather out there is similar today.
Congratulations to those visitors, who were brave and intelligent enough to enter the quiz.
In third place came England, in second place but not by much was Texas, and in first place was British Columbia. Your prizes will be in the post when this old age pensioner can dig his way out of the snow and ice.
Here are the answers to questions 1 -5.

1] Who said 'Send him to gaol, and you make him a gaol bird for life. Besides it is the season of forgiveness.'

Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

2] Which crime writer, and which actor in a crime series, are never odd or even?

I admit this was a nasty one. The key phrase was 'never odd or even' which is a palindrome [ a word or phrase that reads the same backward or forward].
The answer was the crime writer Sophie Hannah, and the actor in Rebus, John Hannah.

3] How would a minister of religion, a word puzzle, a type of code and an aperture be useful in a murder investigation?

Charlie PRIEST, John REBUS, Endeavour MORSE, and Harry HOLE are all detectives.

4] A famous crime novel begins with the following sentence fill in the gaps and name the novel.

'Some women give birth to MURDERERS, some go to bed with them and some MARRY them.'

From Before the Fact by Francis Iles.

5] Grace Kelly starred in the film Rear Window, and Catherine Deneuve starred in the film Mississippi Mermaid [la Sirene du Mississippi].
What is the connection between these two films, apart from having two very beautiful women as stars?

Both films were based on stories by Cornell Woolrich. [It Had To Be Murder and Waltz into Darkness]
[to be continued]

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Not everyone has a blog or access to the wonderful Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Forum to express their opinions.

Bill Coleman from Braunton, Devon, wrote to the Daily Telegraph with his assessment of the British version of Wallander. The letter was published under the heading 'Wishy-Washy Wallander' and I quote it in full:

Sir, I cannot understand the enthusiasm for the British version of Wallander. It is not in the same class as the Swedish version shown on BBC4. Kenneth Branagh is completely miscast-no sense of humour, spends much of the time gazing into space.

The plots make very little sense and worst of all, the actors speak English and their faces are so familiar. It seems a total waste of time and money when there is a such a superior version available.

I don't watch enough British TV programs for the actors faces to be familiar, but Bill Coleman's comments got me thinking about why the BBC did not use Swedish supporting actors. Most Swedes speak excellent English, and then at least the pace and rhythm of the dialogue might have felt more 'Swedish'.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Rob's challenge over at The View From The Blue House is to choose ten pre-1970 classic crime books for someone who has only read contemporary crime fiction. I covered some of this ground with my Dartmoor Dozen choices [click and scroll down for all the posts on this subject] last year but decided to slightly vary my choices this time, although of course there are some authors and some books you just cannot ignore in making a classic crime fiction selection.

1] The Moonstone: Wilkie Collins 1868

2] The Hound of the Baskervilles: Arthur Conan Doyle 1902
3] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Agatha Christie 1926
4] The Maltese Falcon: Dashiell Hammett 1930
5] Gaudy Night: Dorothy L. Sayers 1935
6] Farewell, My Lovely: Raymond Chandler 1940
7] The ABC Murders: Agatha Christie 1936
8] The Talented Mr Ripley: Patricia Highsmith 1957
9] From Doon With Death: Ruth Rendell 1964
10] Roseanna: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1965

No apologies for choosing two books by Agatha Christie after my multiple visits to Greenway last year I had to restrain myself from choosing more.


This winter weather may look beautiful but for those who are traveling it is a nightmare, and it looks as if most people round here are staying indoors. This is certainly the heaviest snowfall I have seen in Devon since 1987 and if it is this heavy down here it must be Nordic in depth up on Dartmoor and Exmoor.

Last year I suggested altering a fairly generic list of crime fiction categories into the Modified Dartmoor Dozen. These would be twelve books that you would recommend reading to someone snowed in on Dartmoor, and new to crime fiction. The concept caught on like wildfire with numerous bloggers listing their own choices, and I was lucky enough to metaphorically grab delicious Donna Moore as a guest blogger to list her choices here, and here.
Donna now has her own superb blog Big Beat from Badsville here.

It seemed appropriate on a day when it would be impossible to even get up onto Dartmoor to be 'snowed in' to consider one of the categories in more detail.

The Police Procedural is one of the most popular sub-genres in crime fiction, but what type of book do you enjoy. The Kenneth Branagh Wallander on BBC seemed to represent the police detective operating virtually on his own in a manner more like a private eye.

While most police procedural books have a team, a duo or a trio of investigators working together. Even a maverick like Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole does not work in total isolation, and has relationships with colleagues.
Are there actually police detectives who work alone in crime fiction? Possibly Freeman Wills Croft's Inspector French?

Which type of criminal investigation do you most enjoy in a police procedural, the singleton, the team, the trio or the duo? What is your cop fiction choice?
And which books in each mini category would you recommend as your favourites?

Monday, January 04, 2010



Kenneth Branagh's version of Wallander returned to BBC1 last night, and I watched my recording earlier this evening.
I call this Branagh's Wallander because he totally dominates the screen and also the action. The contrast with the Swedish series recently shown on BBC4 could not be greater.
I picked up a couple of pertinent tweets last night about the program; the first I think was by Crimeficreader.

'Anyone else notice that they have a police team, but no one other than Wallander ever seems to do anything?'

That 'tweety' comment was spot on, and the action at times seemed quite ridiculous in that Wallander was doing the forensic work, the stake outs, the interviews, the press conference, and leading the investigation. Talk about overwork, no wonder he appeared to resign at the end.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the actors playing Martinsson and Anne-Brit Hoglund are just not strong enough personalities, they make unconvincing cops and therefore their characters are almost invisible.

The second 'tweet' stated that the production had been 'de-Swedified', and although we saw numerous beautifully staged shots of the Swedish countryside the very English dialogue seemed at times to jar.
Henning Mankell's book Faceless Killers is about twenty years old, and I read it way back in 1997 so I can't remember the plot details, or if new characters were inserted into this TV version. The book was certainly was a good example of crime writers being among the first to face up to certain long standing problems in society that politicians have yet to begin to address.

I will watch the rest of the series, but despite the brilliant cinematography and a virtuoso acting performance by Kenneth Branagh this series still comes in second to the dark drama of the Swedish version.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


A terrorist bomb aboard a tram in Amsterdam shatters a nearby postal truck scattering mail all over the cobblestones. Postal Inspector Marnix Gans tries to identify the recipients of some DVD's whose addresses have been scorched off by playing them on his home DVD player. Fourteen minutes into the first DVD he vomits up his chopped cabbage, smoked sausage and Oranjeboom beer.
When Dutch police investigate the Amsterdam end of the DVD distribution operation they tape a phone call from a Brazilian woman, who is obviously the supplier of these disgusting items.
Meanwhile Deputado Roberto Malan, a wealthy politician from Recife, is using his considerable influence to recruit the Federal Police to find his granddaughter Marta, who has run away from home after an argument with her parents about her sexual preferences. Nelson Sampaio, the sycophantic director of the Brazilian Federal Police, is only to pleased to co-operate with Malan, who is the head of the Appropriations Committee in the Chamber of Deputies. It never hurts to have powerful friends when you have political ambitions.
Therefore Federal police Chief Inspector Mario Silva, his nephew young Hector Costa, and veteran Agente Arnaldo Nunes find themselves searching for the runaways, and the trail leads to Manaus, a jungle hellhole on the Amazon, where they will meet an old enemy.

I read Dying Gasp, the third in the Mario Silva series, in two breathless sessions, and could not put it down.
It is a story about the enforced prostitution of children in Brazil, a trade that is protected by corrupt and venal local law enforcement. I did not know that Brazil was a major destination for men seeking sex with minors. Leighton Gage's books may be fiction, but they contain a lot of information about Brazil demonstrating that there is more to that country than football and beautiful beaches.
Leighton gives you details of the country's history along with the social and political commentary that make his books so addictive, and a lot more than just stories about terrible crimes.

Mario Silva and his team are not good men, they have suffered too much, and seen too much, to be good; but they are just men. They believe justice and the law are two different things, and in a country where the rich and powerful are seemingly exempt from the law their mode of Brazilian justice is sometimes the only solution. Dying Gasp is definitely not a cosy read, but it is a top notch thriller that does not pull any punches.

Dying Gasp is an exciting novel with numerous interesting character sketches, a credible plot, and an almost documentary style that gives the story such a realistic feel. I don't see Leighton Gage becoming very popular with the Brazilian Tourist Office, but I will be waiting with great anticipation for his next book.

This is my first contribution to the South American leg of the Dorte's Global Reading Challenge.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Happy New Year, and best wishes for the new decade.
This morning we were able to continue the family tradition of walking on Budleigh Salterton beach, and I am no longer a climate change sceptic.
It is definitely getting much colder.
Although I think that has more to do with me getting older than any new ice age, but it was absolutely freezing in the wind.

I finished another John Lawton book, Old Flames, before the end of the year, and will review that in a few weeks as it will be one of my contributions to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at Mysteries in Paradise.

I have now decided that Lawton makes a deliberate mistake in each book as a test to see if readers pick it up. That or he needs a new editor.

'We sat out the next dance. He bought me a martini and I was desperate for a ciggy by then, and he took out two from his cigarette case, put them in his mouth, just like Humphrey Bogart. Lit up both and passed one to me. I thought that was so good mannered. So romantic.'

Every movie fan will know that scene from Now Voyager [1942], but it was not Humphrey Bogart but Paul Henried, who famously lit both cigarettes and passed one to Bette Davis.
Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid starred together with Ingrid Bergman in another classic movie, Casablanca, so perhaps the confusion was understandable?

I have now moved on to read Dying Gasp by Leighton Gage, a powerful book that will be my first entry to Dorte's Global Challenge 2010.