Wednesday, March 31, 2010


1870, St Petersburg.
Portly investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich [originally created by F.M. Dostoevsky] and his younger assistant Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky are faced by crimes at opposite ends of the wide social spectrum of Russian society.

Mitka, a child worker in one of St Petersburg's foreign owned factories has been strangled. He was attending school in an attempt to escape from his life of perpetual drudgery. His teacher Maria Petrovna Verhotseva requests that Porfiry investigate the murder and the disappearance of other children who attended the school.
But before he can begin the beautiful courtesan Yelena Filippovna Polenova, is murdered at a benefit evening for Maria Petrovna's school held at the luxurious Naryskin Palace. Captain Mizinchikov, an officer of the Preobrazhensky Regiment and one of Yelena's lovers, runs from the palace and appears to be the main suspect.

Porfiry Petrovich and Pavel Pavlovich become embroiled in a dangerously complex investigation involving nihilist revolutionaries, Tsar Alexander II, corrupt Princes, Jewish bankers, the ruthless Third Section secret police and even anatomy schools.

A bell rang. A professor in a white coat entered and strode up to the lecture podium at one end of the room.
'Gentlemen,' he said. 'Uncover your heads.'

This fine historical crime fiction novel took my mind entirely off the pain in my leg. There can be no finer praise from someone with such a low pain threshold.
One moment I was on page 20 and the next page 316 entirely involved in the story and authentic atmosphere created by author Roger Morris.
The author does not flinch from the politically incorrect but accurate portrayal of the period.

'....Moscow Merchant's and their propagandists are always whipping up public opinion against us.'
'Outsiders. You, a Jew. Me, a foreigner.'
'I am not a Jew. I am a Christian.'
'In their eyes, you are a Yid. always will be. You are Iakov's son. Me, I'm no foreigner, I'm as Russian as you. But I have a foreign name [von Lembke]. That is enough for them.'

To write about Tsarist Russia, well actually any Russia, and fail to mention the endemic anti-semitism and xenophobia would be like writing about Sicily and failing to mention the Mafia.

A Razor Wrapped In Silk is both an excellent crime mystery, and fascinating portrait of Russian society in a period when the Tsar made a series of great reforms in an attempt to prevent revolution.

Crimeficreader's review of A Gentle Axe, the first book in the Porfiry Petrovich series.
My review of A Vengeful Longing, the second book in the Porfiry Petrovich series.

Coming soon an interview with Roger Morris.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Many thanks to author Rebecca Cantrell, who informed me that the Spanish translation of her superb historical crime fiction novel A Trace of Smoke, Un Rastro de Humo, is using a quote from my review on the back jacket flap.


My contribution to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is a little bit different, because rules are there to be bent, altered and even squeezed a little.
X is for Xenakis.
Many people whose everyday jobs bring them into close contact with crime turn to writing crime fiction. Lawyers Michael Genelin and Gianrico Carofiglio, forensic anthropologist Kathy Reich and Pinkerton detective Dashiell Hammett immediately spring to mind.
Dr Sappho Xenakis is the Marie Curie Intra European Fellow 2009-2011 at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, and has also held a postdoctoral fellowship at the LSE. Her special interests are organised crime, corruption and police practices.
Later in the year her book entitled The Politics of Organised Crime: Theory and Practice is being published by Routledge, and she has also co-edited Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Greece. Not books for the everyday reader but something that academic libraries would be interested in purchasing.
During the Greek riots in December 2008 she was interviewed on BBC Newsnight, Al Jazeera, BBC World News, and the BBC World Service.
Dr Xenakis might well transfer her considerable expertise into writing crime fiction, as she has both the good looks and intelligence to be a very marketable author.

I have to confess an interest as my mother's youngest brother is the grandfather of Dr Xenakis.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


My contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is W for Washington Shadow.
Washington Shadow is the second book in Aly Monroe's Peter Cotton series.
From my review for Euro Crime:

..intelligent dialogue, considerable tension, a love story and the credible period attitudes of the characters produce a tense atmosphere that simply makes you want to keep turning the pages to discover what happens next.

I am really looking forward to reading the charming Aly Monroe's next book which will be set during the period of post war austerity when Britain was financially bust. Some things never change.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My delayed contribution [I did have an excuse] to the letter "V" Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is V is for Valin; Jonathan Valin.

I came across Jonathan Valin when reading a Rap Sheet article about forgotten authors, whose readers would like to see become come back kids.
Extenuating Circumstances was the eighth in a series published about Cincinnati based PI Harry Stoner, and it won the Shamus Award in 1990.

Ira Lessing has everything a man could wish for a pretty young wife, good friends, a successful business, Rothkos on the wall, and a reputation as a man who does good deeds for those not as fortunate as himself. When he disappears Harry Stoner is called in to investigate and before long it becomes clear that Ira and his reputation are both dead ducks.

"But the cops do, right? I guess you can't be a kind, charitable human being- a decent man with a genuine concern for other people-without being labeled a queer."

Jonathan Valin received the highest praise during his writing career such as:

'Jonathan Valin is the legitimate heir to the Raymond Chandler-Ross Macdonald mantle.' San Antonio Express News.

'...-and that puts him in the very small class who transcend the noble ghosts of Chandler and Hammett.' Peter Straub

I have to say that his writing style is very gritty, and sometimes his ability to describe brutal events in great detail leaves you stunned, and wondering if it is really necessary to spell it out for the readership with such clarity.
Extenuating Circumstances is a fast compelling read, but the subject matter which concerns the world of young male homosexual prostitutes and hustlers [called rent boys in the UK] might just be too dark for some readers.

He was probably no more than forty, but he was definitely on his third or fourth lifetime.


A small celebration because the plaster came off my leg on Monday, and although it looks as if it was run over by a truck I am still breathing!
There was among my fellow patients in hospital there was a guy who had been run over by a truck in a petrol station, which had driven up his leg.
The driver got out looked at him under the vehicle and reversed back off the leg!
The gun shot wound guy in the next bed had apparently been out "lamping" and got in the way of the shot. A lot of blood all over his bed, but no mystery there.

I spent two nights post op in hospital, and heard some very sad stories from fellow patients, including one who was admitted after a heart attack. He developed pneumonia so they had to wait to operate, and during that time he fell in the bathroom and fractured his hip!

Some time ago a DAB radio station in the UK went off the air and just broadcast birdsong. With the birdsong the number of listeners increased dramatically, and Crime Scraps also had an increase in visitors following my disappearance from the web.
Is this telling me something?

Many thanks to all those who sent their best wishes for my recovery. I hope to catch up with the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme letters V and W in the next few days.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Thanks to everyone for their best wishes. I go back to the hospital tomorrow to have the cast removed!
I have done very little reading simply because I can't concentrate much on books, therefore I have been watching comedy DVDs, such as Dad's Army, and Roseanne, as well as the superb BBC series nature series Wild China.
I did collect enough material in hospital for several posts but more of that when I am feeling a bit better.
Only I could end up in a bed next to patient with a gunshot wound.
No, I haven't moved to LA, Chicago or Baltimore, I was in Exeter!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Crime Scraps will be off line for a while, because I fell down the stairs and smashed my patella into several pieces. They also nearly lost me on the operating table!
Further updates hopefully will follow and normal service will be resumed in a few days.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I sometimes buy The Independent on a Friday for the Arts & Books review.
Today I bought it because it had a front page lead article entitled "Human Tragedy and National Scandal" about the case of David Askew, a 64 year old man with learning difficulties, who was subjected to thuggish behaviour for years, and collapsed and died this week after confronting youths outside his house.
This case highlights the fact "supported living in the community" only works when the person receives the correct level of support.
No doubt there will be yet another enquiry by the multiple agencies that failed Mr Askew, and some extremely well paid functionary will apologise profusely and proclaim that "lessons have been learned".

The Arts & Books review contained the long list of books nominated for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Next month the fifteen books will be whittled down to six for the short list.
I had only read two of these books:
Both were brilliant in their own way, and as there is also on that list The Coronation by Boris Akunin, whose books I have really enjoyed in the past, I suspect the judges will have some problems in their deliberations.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


We have only six more letters to go. My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is U for Unspoken.

Unspoken is the second book in the Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and reporter Johan Berg series set on the island of Gotland written by Mari Jungstedt and translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally.

Henry Dahlstrom, an alcoholic photographer, wins over eighty thousand kroner by picking five straight winners at Visby trotting track. A week later he is found murdered in his basement darkroom and Knutas leads the investigating team of detectives [who include the very private Karin Jacobsson, and the always eating Martin Kihlgard co-opted from the national police] making enquiries among Dahlstrom's down and out associates.
The story moves back in time to a story of the abuse of Fanny Jansson, a beautiful dark skinned 14 year old school girl, by a mysterious older man.
A third strand of this story follows the continuing affair and its complications between Emma, married mother of two young children and Johan Berg, the reporter who helped Knutas solve the multiple murders in Unseen.
When Fanny, whose mother is a drunk, disappears it seems possible that this is linked in some way to the Dahlstrom murder case, which itself has become more complex when large sums of money are found in his bank account.

"People with high incomes who use illegal workers even though they could afford to pay them legitimately . And then when someone is murdered, they won't even go to the police because they are afraid of getting into trouble! That's about as low as it gets."

I enjoyed this book a fraction more than the first in the series even though the police work once again seems a little hit and miss. The police procedural aspect of the book is quite well done but it is the accounts of family life on Gotland and the social interaction between the characters that defines the book. I still don't care for Johan Berg although the sub-plot of his affair with the incredibly naive and rather unlucky Emma does add considerable interest to the novel.
The ending was telegraphed and a bit weak, but what had gone before especially the relationship between Knutas and his fiery Danish wife, Lina, made up for this.
I shall definitely be reading number three in this series hoping that Emma will dump the handsome Johan, and stick with her husband Ollie.

"And what about you? Have you taken a look at yourself ?" Lina yelled from upstairs. "I could buy you an arm exerciser for Christmas. And maybe some Viagra-that wouldn't hurt!"

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Accent: a distinctive way of pronouncing a language, especially one associated with a particular country, area, or social class.

Accent has always been important in Britain to distinguish the speaker's social class and regional affiliation. Strangely we monolingual British, while we comprehend for example how different the Geordie [Newcastle area] accent is from the Cockney or Welsh, don't take into consideration very often that other nations will have regional accents in languages we don't understand.
I do remember a friend saying that they could not understand his Brazilian Portuguese when he was on holiday in Portugal, and also when reading Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri there is constant reference to Venetian and Sicilian dialects.
But when it comes to Scandinavian accents, who knew....?

Lina had a quick temper, and when she started yelling in a strong Danish accent, he had a hard time understanding what she meant.

And later in the book that I am reading at the moment.

"You speak Gotland Swedish, but you sound like a Dane,"she said with a smile.
"I'm married to a Dane, so I guess some of it has rubbed off."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is T is for Thirty Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill.
I think that is enough Ts for anyone.

Laos 1977.
Two mismatched corpses found on a bicycle outside the Ministry of Sport, Information and Culture, and a collection of savaged bodies piling up in the Vientiane morgue have created work for Dr Siri Paliboun, chief coroner to the Laos People's Republic.
One of the bicycle corpses seems to have been a bureaucrat thrown through a window after trying to open a mysterious chest belonging to the Laotian royal family. The savaged bodies may well have been attacked by an old escaped black bear, or something altogether more frightening. When Dr Siri is sent north to Luang Prabang, the former Laotian royal capital, in order to autopsy a couple of badly burned bodies, he meets a VIP gardener, and a group of shamans with a sense of fun.
Meanwhile back in Vientiane Nurse Dtui does a spot of investigating on her own.

This is the second book in Colin Cotterill's Dr Siri series following on from The Coroner's Lunch. These books are superb reads full of lovely characters such as Siri himself, his trusty assistants Nurse Dtui and Mr Geung, his politburo friend Civilai, Inspector Phosy, and the annoying neighbour Mrs Vong. The reader learns about Laotian culture and the shamanic spirit world, and the whole story is told with extraordinary charm and a big dose of humour.

'Ahh. They're are devious, the phibob. Those from the south especially so. Yeh Ming has obviously made some powerful enemies over the past thousand years.'

When I realised these books had a supernatural element I wondered whether I would enjoy them, but the stories are so beautifully constructed that the shamanism is entirely believable, and who could resist any book with such a odontological title.

The people were suffering. They'd tightened their belts at the behest of the new regime. They'd pooled their scant resources and given up their humble luxuries. And what reward did they get for their unselfishness? Zilch. They needed festivals and concerts and happy days now and then to forget their frustrations.

With a son in the event production industry I can fully agree with the above passage. He even landed at Vientiane airport recently on a trip from Phnom Penh to Hanoi, and along with the books featuring Mr Geung [who has Downs Syndrome] as well, I feel a warm affinity with this series. Luckily there are four more to read.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Jo Nesbø - THE BAT MAN (Harry Hole #1)

Jo Nesbø - THE COCKROACHES (Harry Hole #2)

Jo Nesbø - THE REDBREAST (Harry Hole #3)

Jo Nesbø - NEMESIS (Harry Hole #4)

Jo Nesbø - THE DEVIL'S STAR (Harry Hole #5)

Jo Nesbø - THE REDEEMER (Harry Hole #6)

Jo Nesbø - THE SNOWMAN (Harry Hole #7)

Jo Nesbø - THE LEOPARD (Harry Hole #8)