Sunday, February 28, 2010


My review of Blood Alone by James Benn has been posted here at Euro Crime. Set amid the confusion of the Allied Invasion of Sicily in 1943 I thought the book lost itself between the different genres, and became more war thriller than crime fiction.
The painting shows a tent and trees in Algeria 1943, on the way to Sicily, Anzio, Rome and victory in the Mediterranean Theatre.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I received an email yesterday from the Salomonsson Agency informing me that Jo Nesbo's novel The Leopard has won the Palle Rosenkrantz Prize.

This prize is awarded by the Danish Crime Writing Academy for the year's Best Crime Novel and the list of previous winners reads like a Hall of Fame of Crime Writers. They include, among others, John Le Carre, P.D.James, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, Peter Robinson, Hakan Nesser, Karin Alvtegen, Don Winslow, Leif Davidsen, Peter Hoeg, Gunnar Staalesen, Donna Leon, Ian Rankin and Reginald Hill.
The good news for me is that a copy of the The Snowman is in the post.
When am I going to find time to read all these books?

Friday, February 26, 2010


Two books, both the third in an acclaimed series arrived in the post today.

Maxine of Petrona was kind enough to send me on her copy of The Stone Cutter by Camilla Lackberg with a note, saying not to read the blurb first. The book is the third in the series featuring police detective Patrik Hedstrom and his partner Erica located in the fishing village of Fjallbacka.
I did sneak peak that on the back cover Harper Collins are still using a blurb that refers to Ms Lackberg's debut novel The Ice Princess as 'heart-stopping and heart-warming'. I must have a cold heart as the subject matter in The Ice Princess was indeed heart-stopping, and left me feeling more disturbed than comfortable. It was an enjoyable book but with not enough goodness in it to be considered heart-warming. Camilla Lackberg is of course a massive best seller in Europe ahead of both Henning Mankell and John Grisham.
The translator of The Stone Cutter is our old friend Steven T. Murray aka Reg Keeland [Stieg Larsson's translator] and so I am expecting this novel to be a really good read.

The second book, A Razor Wrapped in Silk was sent by author Roger Morris [R.N.Morris] via publishers Faber and Faber. Also the third in an acclaimed series this one features Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I must say that I like the cover designs of for this series with the atmospheric photographs of St Petersburg.
I hope to be able to interview Roger in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Moving on from a book that you need to put in a plain wrapper [Bulldog Drummond by Sapper] to read in public to something less controversial.

It really is a nice feeling when an author gets something so right that it seems perfect. Colin Cotterill has obviously at some stage in his varied career been in close contact with people with Down's Syndrome, because he gets Mr Geung spot on in this passage from Thirty Three Teeth.

'See that, Mr Geung? Those marks are almost identical to the ones on Auntie See.'
He continued to prepare the teacher for storage.
'Let....let's wait for the Comrade Doctor.'
'Wouldn't you trust me to cut her up, pal?'
'Dr Siri is a doctor.'
'And what am I?'
'A girl.'
'What about when I come back from four years study in the Soviet Union with a coroner's certificate. Will I still be just a girl then?'
'Then'll be an old girl.'
He kept his face straight for as long as was humanly possible then snorted his laugh. She picked up the bone cleaver and chased him round the dissection table.

Dr Siri, Nurse Dtui and Mr Geung are one of the most charming and lovable trio of investigators in crime fiction, and the books are a rarity in the positive image they give of someone with a learning difficulty. More about this book next week.

Monday, February 22, 2010


My contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is S for "Sapper".
Well rules are meant to be bent a little, and Sapper is the pen name of Herman Cyril McNeile.

McNeile was born in 1888 at the Naval prison in Bodmin, Cornwall where his father was the Governor. He served in the Royal Engineers [known as sappers] from 1907-1919. He took the pen name because during the First World War serving officers were not allowed to write under their own names.
His first thriller Bulldog Drummond [1920] was an enormous success, and he went on to become one of the most popular novelists of his generation, when he died in 1937 a vast public mourned his death.
The character of Bulldog Drummond was played on screen by some very famous actors including Ronald Colman, Ralph Richardson, John Howard, Walter Pidgeon and Ray Milland.

A few weeks ago I was persuaded by Mrs Crime Scraps to visit a book fair at Killerton House, and this revived my historical interest in Sapper when I purchased a copy of his novel Jim Maitland. Jim Maitland was first published in 1923, and the 1935 edition I purchased was the twenty-eighth edition, which is evidence of the incredible popularity of this writer in his time.
Ben McIntyre recently wrote in an article in the Times in which he stated 'All great fictional detectives hold up a mirror to their times.'
Sapper's Hugh Drummond did indeed hold up such a mirror and today the novels are an interesting record of a rather unpleasant society. These ideas were openly expressed in everyday conversation so the authors of the early part of the twentieth century were not shy about putting them in print. I suspect many people hold similar views today, but keep their opinions more to themselves.

"That being the case, " he continued, "how comes it that a Dago made you cry out for help? Dagos who do anything so foolish as to molest English girls are simply asking for trouble, aren't they, you repulsive little beast?"
[Jim Maitland: Sapper 1923]

"The scum certainly would not be complete," he remarked to Peterson, "without a filthy Boche in it."

"I caught a glimpse of the most wonderful gold chaliced cup-just like the one for which Samuel Levy, the Jew moneylender, was still offering a reward."
[Bulldog Drummond: Sapper 1920]

I did go back this week and read Bulldog Drummond again, after a gap over half a century, and much of the plot, attitudes and language just seemed utterly stupid.
I wondered why I and so many others read this stuff when I was at school.
It came to me that an English preparatory or public school in the 1950s was far closer both chronologically and in its attitudes to the world of Hugh Drummond, and Carl Peterson, than to today's world.
But it is just possible to read the books for the adventure while ignoring the jingoistic, racist, anti-Semitic nonsense and the ludicrous plots if you are ten.
But it is nice to know that some things never change:

'Look at this entry here, 'he grunted. 'That blighter is a Member of Parliament. What's he getting four payments of a thousand pounds for?'
'Why surely, to buy some nice warm underclothes with,' grinned the detective.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The cover story of today's Daily Telegraph review is entitled 'On the trail of the world's most seductive sleuth'.

The story is David Gritten's interview with Noomi Rapace, who plays Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and is a mixture of the usual background material [Pippi Longstocking, Eva Gabrielsson and Stieg Larsson etc] along with some interesting insights into how the actress prepared for the role, and her admiration for Stieg Larsson's agenda.

"I think Stieg Larsson was pretty brave," she said. "He wanted to bring up things that we don't like to talk about, or like to ignore. In Sweden everybody has this perfect surface. Everybody's very polite and controls their feelings.
For instance there's certainly violence against women here, but it gets swept under the carpet. We have immigrants, but you don't see them in the centre of Stockholm- a lot of people here don't feel part of this society. And we still have old Nazis, Swedes who agreed with Hitler. We've never addressed this."

I think it is a little harsh that in this lengthy article, and in the Telegraph listings of the week's best sellers that the translator Reg Keeland does not get a mention.

Is Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, the world's most seductive sleuth?
Any other suggestions? Barbara Havers as played by Sharon Small, or Jane Tennison as played by Helen Mirren spring immediately to mind.

The film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opens in the UK on March 12.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge is proving a very pleasant task and I have completed Europe, and am on my second Asian book.
I have also collected books to read for Africa and Australasia, and to complete North America and South America.


Thirty-Three Teeth: Colin Cotterill-Laos. I am reading this now.

North America:

South America:

I did a little research over four weeks In January to see where my visitors came from, and the map on the left shows that they come from all over the world, even though visitors from African countries were a bit sparse. In the past I have had visitors from several North African and West African countries, but perhaps they were all watching their football tournament during this period.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I am a little late this week with posting my entry to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise simply because I have been distracted by other events. It is strange that you can go quietly along for months without very much happening, and then suddenly you are facing a few very significant weeks in your life.

R is for Reginald Hill, who is one of the best of British crime writers of the past forty years. The winner of a CWA Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in 1995, he won a Gold Dagger in 1990 for Bones and Silence. Although he has written the Joe Sixsmith, and other novels, his main claim to fame are the brilliant Dalziel and Pascoe books which have been adapted for a popular TV series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan.

There are twenty four books [one a selection of short stories] featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe, and I have just finished reading Midnight Fugue, the most recent in the series.

Gina Wolfe's husband Alex, a cop, went missing seven years ago, after an investigation for corruption, but now a magazine photo has been sent to her with a message on notepaper from the Keldale, one of Mid- Yorkshire's poshest hotels. Her new boyfriend Commander Mick Purdy puts her in touch with the Fat Man, Andy Dalziel, who he thinks can be of assistance.
Andy is always ready to help an attractive blonde, but when he takes her to lunch at the Keldale, where coincidentally Pascoe and his wife Ellie are attending a christening party, he realizes that there are others on her trail.
The author tells a complex story from several different perspectives set over a period of 24 hours.
The plot involves a ruthless black entrepreneur, his handsome golden boy mixed-race Tory MP son, the MP's personal assistant, a Welsh tabloid journalist, and a couple of psychopathic fixers sent out to make sure the past remains in the past.

This is a brilliant read, but the plot is also very transparent, and the author drops a pair of massive clues as to how everything will turn out early on in the narrative. They are about as subtle as Andy Dalziel reaching for a pint, but this does not spoil the story proving again that larger than life characters can make up for any plot deficiencies. I really enjoyed spotting the clues and working out the inevitable ending early on, and I think Reginald Hill intended the clues to be spotted, knowing it would give the reader a self satisfied glow of pleasure, as they enjoyed the wit and humour in the book.

......Loudwater Villas was a wasteland of derelict mills that successive Bunteresque city councils promised to transform into a twenty-first-century wonderland of flats and shops and sporting arenas as soon as this postal order they were expecting daily turned up.

Midnight Fugue is dominated by the wonderfully politically incorrect Andy Dalziel, who along with his team Peter Pascoe, Shirley "Ivor" Novello and Wieldy make this one of the best police series around.

'But it tastes fine. Really.'
'Well, I'll try owt except for incest and the Lib Dems.'

One of the things I like about the current alphabet meme is that it is taking me either to new authors or back in Reginald Hill's case to a favourite from the past, who I haven't read for a long while. I will be back for more from this superb series.

'I'll have beef as well, luv, said Dalziel. 'But I'll have mine roast with Yorkshire pud and lots of spuds.'

Friday, February 12, 2010


Yesterday it was very pleasant to spend a relaxing evening reading About Face by Donna Leon after a very stressful day of meetings.
Many thanks to Maxine of Petrona for sending me this book.
Donna Leon and the Brunetti series proves that you really don't need brilliant plots if your readers exhibit a strong desire to read about the great characters you have created, and you write intelligent prose.

At a dinner party given by his parents-in-law, the Conte and Contessa Falier, Brunetti meets Maurizio Cataldo, a business man, and his much younger second wife Franca Marinello. Franca is known as 'la super liftata' and her expressionless appearance shocks Brunetti although he is intrigued by her grasp of Ovid, Virgil and Cicero.
The Conte asks Brunetti to investigate Cataldo as he is considering going into a business venture with him, and they also discuss Franca.

'But a person does not go to Australia for plastic surgery, for God's sake.' .........................

'I hardly thought you were going to run off with her, Guido,' he laughed.
'Orazio, believe me: one woman who reads is more than enough for me.'
I know what you mean, I know what you mean.

There are two I know what you means in the book, and I could add another.

Later Carabinieri Maggior Filippo Guarino contacts Brunetti and the two spar over exactly what Guarino wants from him, because this is Italy where distrust between the police forces is endemic. Venice, and Veneto, seem no different in this respect from Sicily where to quote author Leonardo Sciascia 'the left hand does not trust the right even when they belong to the same man.'
Guarino, who also shows a interest in Signorina Elettra, is part of an investigation into the move of the Camorra gangs into the north, and their involvement in the transport of garbage, coincidentally the very same business into which Cataldo wants the Conte to make an investment.
Brunetti is asked to identify a murder suspect, another murder occurs with the body dumped in an industrial estate in Marghera, and surprisingly I had a particular interest in the final explanation of the case.

I find Donna Leon's books a constant delight as she describes a society where government agencies live alongside criminal gangs and sometimes you can't tell which is which. She is definitely back on top form with this book as she draws attention to the graft, corruption, incompetence and depravity that hides behind the beautiful face of Italy.

Paola took a step closer to it by saying,' You work for this government, and you dare to criticize my father for investing in China.?'

Even though he has to tread carefully dealing with his lazy, sycophantic, politically motivated superior Vice-Questore Patta, Guido Brunetti must surely be the luckiest cop alive.

He is married to the fragrant Paola, a Professor of English Literature from a wealthy family, who has other very important attributes.

'If you put that hand anywhere near me, I will divorce you and take the children.'
'They're old enough to decide themselves,' he answered with he thought was Olympian calm.
'I cook ,' she said.

He also has the always beautifully attired Signorina Elettra to work some wizardry with a computer for him, and now he has a new work colleague; Commissario Claudia Griffoni 'a tall, willowy blonde with blue eyes and skin so clear that she had to be careful of the sun'.

On top of that Guido, and Paola's children Chiara and Raffi are quite civilized, and he lives, and works, in scenic Venice. A very lucky man, we however can read about his adventures and at least we don't have our garbage transported by the Mafia, N'Dragheta or Camorra, well not yet anyway.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Thanks to Karen at Euro Crime for drawing my attention to a comment on her blog that the Swedish movie, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, will be shown at Dartington's Barn Cinema in March.

The Barn is an independent cinema situated in a renovated 14th century barn within the grounds of the beautiful Dartington Hall Estate, near Totnes.
I am not going to drool too much over the attractions of the Barn Cinema,the Roundhouse Cafe and bar, the White Hart pub and restaurant, or the accommodation because we want to keep it a special secret place for us locals.
Mrs Crime Scraps and I might just qualify as "demi-locals" as we have lived in Devon for almost 23 years.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise has been kind enough to pass on to me a Prolific Blogger Award. I am really not sure if I deserve this but thanks very much Kerrie.

The rules:
Receiving this award means:
A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive, keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which /he or she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every prolific Blogger must visit this post and ad his/her name in the Mr Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners. [Click here for the Mr Linky page.]

I don't usually like rules and regulations, I had too many of those in my 40 years in dentistry, but because it is Kerrie, who gave me the award and because it does give me a chance to give recognition to some wonderful blogs, I will be good for once.
I have tried not to duplicate Kerrie's own excellent [apart from me] choices here with this award so my awards go to:

Congratulations, and you don't have to do anything if you don't want to.

Monday, February 08, 2010


This weeks contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is Q for Qiu Xiaolong.

I finished reading Qiu Xiaolong's debut novel Death of a Red Heroine a few days ago.

May 1990. An attractive young woman's body is found in an out of the way canal twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.

Her murder is investigated by Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau homicide department special case squad, with his able assistant Detective Yu Guangming. It does not take them very long to identify the victim as Guan Hongying, an attractive role model worker seemingly living a frugal and chaste life in a spartan dorm building.

Chen, a poet and translator of western crime fiction as a sideline, realises the difficult political nature of the case, when the main suspect turns out to be a member of the HCC [High Cadre Children] the privileged group, who may be above the law.

But those HCC! That was one of the things making life so hard for ordinary Chinese. With their family connections, HCC could do what other people could not dream of doing, and rocketed up their political careers.

Chief Inspector Chen and Detective Yu may be very different people, but they are both honest cops, who believe that all people are equal under the law. Unfortunately they are working in a country where despite the apparent drift to some form of capitalism, the party still retains overwhelming power and influence.

They soon came to the midsection of Henshan Road, where the Wu Mansion stood looming behind high walls. Originally it had been owned by a tycoon surnamed Zhou. When the Communists took over in 1949, the Zhou family fled to Taiwan, and Wu Bing's family moved in.

Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, has lived in the USA since 1989, and now lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.
He won the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel for Death of a Red Heroine.

This was a wonderfully instructive book about China, the lives of ordinary Chinese people, and how the Communist Party cadres live a highly privileged and sometimes decadent existence. Crime Fiction is used to put across a political point and tell the story of a great crime that is perhaps still not fully comprehended in the West.
How so many young people were sent into the countryside to be re-educated during Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Much of the book deals with the personal lives, history and romantic attachments of Chief Inspector Chen, a lonely detective, who because of his status as a poet, and party member has been given a larger apartment, and is expected to put the interests of the party above personal happiness and even justice.
His older subordinate Detective Yu has a happy family life with his loyal supportive wife Peiqin, and this proves a stark contrast to model worker Guan Honying's real life when this is gradually revealed by the investigation.

I really enjoyed reading about all the characters along with a mixture of history, Chinese poetry and accounts of interesting food.
Some might criticise the length of the book and the repetitive stories of the damage done by the Cultural Revolution, but the characters are so well defined and the descriptions of China so vivid and interesting that I did not find it overlong.
I am tempted to skip to the last book in the series The Mao Case to see how Chief Inspector Chen has progressed after this outstanding debut.

Also I always like backing the underdog, and in this book Chief Inspector Chen is always struggling against the system.

It might be a losing battle, but Chen saw he was not alone in it. Detective Yu, Peiqin, Old Hunter, Overseas Chinese Lu, Ruru, Wang Feng, Little Zhou..... and Dr Xia, too.
Because of them he was not going to quit.

I am also using this book as an entry to Dorte's Global Challenge for Asia. For more about Qiu Xiaolong visit Kiwi Craig Sisterton's informative blog Crime Watch.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Update: Please join me at my new blog Crime Scraps Review where you can read all the old posts and a lot of new stuff.

The Times has recently produced a list of the ten Best Crime Fiction Novels of the Decade chosen by Laura Wilson and Barry Forshaw.

I usually love lists especially when I can enjoy myself criticising the choices made by the panel. But when they attempt to choose 'crime novels of the decade' I am at a complete loss.
How can anyone narrow down to ten all the excellent crime fiction novels that have been published in a decade?
That said I have read only three of the chosen ten, one more sits on my TBR pile, one I started but because of the small print and the writing style I abandoned, two more I watched as television adaptions, and one I went to the movie.

I might even agree with two of the ten choices:

The problem with the article was that the authors seemed to have second thoughts and listed numerous honourable mentions. This is rather like saying these are the best, but I know that many readers will hate some of these choices, so here is another lot I might have chosen.
The criteria were that the books should exhibit good writing and storytelling, and be innovative and individual, as well as "bloody good examples of their type".
The ten authors whose books were chosen were Arnaldur Indridason, Frances Fyfield, Fred Vargas, David Peace, Dennis Lehane, Sarah Waters, Andrew Taylor, Don Winslow and Cormac McCarthy.

What do you think of the Times list here? Which books and authors would be on your own list? Who do you think are the most innovative and individual authors of the decade? Have such lists any merit?

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Whether you appreciate crime fiction can be all about character.
The characters in the books, and frequently the character of the author, or the translator.
I have found that, almost without exception, the people who write about [or translate books about] the nasty side of life are very nice people, with their feet firmly on the ground.

This is from an essay, The Writing Life by George Pelecanos:

In the summer of 1968, two months after the riots, I went to work for my father at his lunch counter and carryout,.......................

My life has accelerated to a different level these past two years. I travel extensively, both nationally and abroad, to promote the books. I've done readings in rowdy London pubs, drank Guinness and Irish whiskey in Dublin, eaten like a king in Athens, walked through Paris at Christmas time, and appeared on prime-time television shows overseas. I've been flown to foreign arts festivals to introduce and discuss my beloved westerns and film noirs.
I ride in limousines, stay in first class hotels, meet with rappers and actors on film projects, hear my voice on NPR and routinely see my face in magazines and newspapers.

And honestly, I just laugh, I laugh because I know where I came from, and that's not me.

Fame can affect actors, sportsmen, and politicians, who believe their own publicity even as they tarnish and then destroy their carefully created image.
But can a writer enjoy a very luxurious lifestyle, and still maintain the ability to paint a realistic portrait of life on the street?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


These weeks do seem to rush round, and it is time again for a contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme being hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise.

We have reached the letter P for Pelecanos, George Pelecanos.

From author information in The Turnaround:
George Pelecanos was born in Washington, DC in 1957. He worked as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, shoe salesman, electronics salesman, construction worker, and retail genera manager before publishing his first novel in 1992. He is the author of 15 [now 16 novels] set in and around Washington DC.
Pelecanos served as producer on several feature films, and is writer and producer on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire for which he was nominated for an Emmy.

I had not read any Pelecanos for several years, and had collected quite a number on my TBR pile so approaching the letter P seemed an ideal opportunity to pick up The Turnaround, and sample something by this writer.

It is a hot summer afternoon in 1972. Billy, Pete and Alex Pappas, three white teenagers drive a car into Heathrow Heights, an African American neighbourhood of Washington DC, to "raise a little hell." They throw a cherry pie towards a group of young African Americans, including the brothers James and Raymond Monroe and the scar-faced Charles Baker.
The pie glances off Charles as Billy shouts an abusive comment, including the n-word.
As the white boys attempt to drive off down the road they make a discovery.

"It's a turnaround," said Alex, as if in wonder.
"The hell it is, " said Billy. "It's a dead end."

They now have to drive back through a growing angry crowd of young men and the 'incident' that follows will be a defining moment in all their lives.

The Turnaround is a superb novel in which Pelecanos introduces us to the characters and their world, describes the 'incident', and then briskly moves us on thirty five years to gradually learn what has happened in the intervening years. The search for redemption and retribution clash as we are taken to an endgame that inevitably involves violence, has a twist in the tale, and also a search for the American dream.

"The best crew I've ever had. Look, you don't make this possible and neither do I. The help does. You gotta take care of 'em, John........... you've always got to take care of the help."

Some of the best advice ever given on running any business and you get it for free in a crime fiction thriller.

"What did you see in his eyes?"
"I saw good."
'Why, Raymond? Why would you seek him out?"
"I had to," said Monroe.

This is a brilliant, thought provoking novel and I shall be reading more George Pelecanos over the next few months. No wonder The Wire was so good.
I am also entering this novel as part one of my North American leg of Dorte's Global challenge 2010.