Friday, April 30, 2010


The power of television is such that I once heard an interview in which Ringo Starr claimed he was asked what he did before he was the voice of Thomas The Tank Engine.
His answer "I was in a group".

John Laurie played Hamlet, Richard III and Macbeth at the Old Vic and Stratford as well as appearing in his friend Lawrence Olivier's three Shakespearian films, but is only known today for his portrayal of Private Frazier in the television series Dad's Army.

I was therefore not surprised to see that my copy of Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing has a small sticker on it which said "author of the Wallander series" and a photograph of Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander in the BBC television series.

I am mildly irritated that someone thought that Henning Mankell's name [surely in a large enough font] was not enough to sell this book. The thought of some poor employee, or a robotic machine, attaching these stickers to the books I find fairly bizarre.
The book, well so far, despite absence of Kurt Wallander and Kenneth Branagh, I can say that am enjoying reading The Man from Beijing.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Gerard Brennan of Crime Scene NI and Mike Stone have edited a new anthology of crime fiction which could be subtitled Irish crime, Irish myths. Mike in his section of the foreword written in emerald green Stoke-on-Trent refers to himself and Gerard as 'a couple of upstarts'. Well the upstarts have done very well collecting together these 17 short stories written by some of the biggest names in Irish crime fiction, and Maxim Jakubowski.
The stories are divided into three groups Ulster, Myth, and Fianna.
I have only had time to read Queen of the Hill by Stuart Neville and if the standard of the other stories is only half as good this is a collection not to be missed.
With Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Adrian, McKinty, Arlene Hunt and others contributing prepare to be frightened.
Publication date 1 June, 2010.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The Snowman is the seventh book in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, and the fifth to be smoothly and superbly translated into English by Don Bartlett.

The book is based on a theme, mother and son return to their home, where the husband is making dinner in the kitchen. It is a happy family scene and while the snow is falling outside it is warm and cosy inside. The son thanks the father for making the snowman, but he knows nothing about it, and then they realise that the snowman is staring back into the house.

A woman goes missing and her pink scarf is left round the neck of a snowman looking back towards the bedroom windows.

'She would never have given her favourite scarf to the snowman.'
'Then it must have been your dad.'
'No, someone did it after he'd left. Last night. The person who took Mum.
Harry nodded slowly. 'Who made the snowman, Jonas?'
'I don't know.'
Harry looked through the window to the garden. This was the reason he had come. An ice-cold draught seemed to run through the wall and the room.

Then a second woman goes missing and when it is confirmed she is dead another snowman is involved......

Harry Hole believes there is a connection with a menacing letter he received some months earlier, and then he discovers after delving through the unsolved case files a number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. He believes there is a serial killer operating in Norway.
So while Kripos under Espen Lepsik are designated to do the routine and usually boringly unproductive police work he forms an elite squad of four to track down the Snowman. As well as himself the squad consists of forensic expert Bjorn Holm, the rather unpleasant Magnus Skarre, and the attractive policewoman Katrine Bratt, who has transferred from rainy Bergen.

Harry and Katrine follow an old trail that leads to rainy Bergen, and a case involving a renowned policeman who disappeared twelve years before. Back in Oslo, a very discreet plastic surgery clinic and a wealthy Oslo businessman may hold the solution.
Harry's task is complicated by the death throws of his relationship with Rakel, who will soon marry her new boyfriend, but can't make a clean break with Harry because of her son Oleg's close friendship with the detective.

The Harry Hole books have always had strong plots and well drawn characters and Harry's new partner Katrine Bratt is no exception.

....this guy [Harry] seemed more like one of the dopeheads hanging round the streets than a policeman. And the girl [Katrine] behind him didn't look like a policewoman, either. True she had that hard look, the whore look, but the rest of her was lady, all lady. If she had got herself a pimp who didn't rob her, she could have earned five times her wage, at least.

Harry may well be arrogant, anti-authority, unstable and an alcoholic, but he is vulnerable and almost innocent in some situations. That is what makes him such an interesting character and makes readers care about him.

The Snowman has a narrative that drives the story forward relentlessly and you find yourself having read 400 plus pages in a very short period of time. The downside of this is the long wait for another Jo Nesbo to be translated and published in English. The Snowman is beautifully scary with the tinge of a horror story mixed in with the superb police procedural thriller.
Jo Nesbo has already created a fine body of work that must place him among the best crime writers of this and any age. His books, despite the modern references to DNA and mobile phones, are with their multiple suspects, red herrings, plot twists and turns, and subsequent dead ends are almost a tribute to the detective fiction of the past.

Summing up The Snowman is one of the most exciting, stimulating, brain teasing crime novels I have ever read with a great plot, fascinating characters and a brilliant climax.
A must must read! I did pick out the murderer [OK twice or three times], and even if you do guess the solution earlier in book than I did, the clever narrative will still make you doubt your chosen suspect, and not stop you enjoying the story.

She leaned back against the tree trunk and slowly slumped to the ground. Felt the tears come without attempting to stop them this time. Because now she knew. There would be no afterwards.
'Shall we begin?' the voice said softly.

This was my second book chosen for the Scandinavian Reading Challenge at The Black Sheep Dances.

My reviews of the rest of Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, that have been translated by Don Bartlett:


Kerrie at the brilliant Mysteries in Paradise has discussed the definition of "Scandinavian" with relevance to the Scandinavian Reading Challenge.

I am going to follow the 'Oxford Dictionary of English' definitions, simply because I want to read Hyopothermia by Arnaldur Indridason as part of the challenge.

Scandinavia: a cultural region consisting of the countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark and sometimes also Iceland, Finland and the Faroe Islands.

also Scandinavian: the northern branch of the Germanic languages, comprising Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese, all descended from the Old Norse.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and my lack of mobility, following my recent fall and subsequent operation, has meant a chance to watch some superb television series on DVD. Our cable TV links are on the first and second floor, and I have been marooned on the ground floor for most of the past six weeks with a TV set that can only play DVDs.
No election broadcasts, no election debates, no current TV, just the series I choose and a selection of crime fiction books. The silver lining, and the codeine tablets are scrumptious as well.
I will admit I had to stop watching the first series of House as I have quite enough real symptoms without learning about any more.

Great British TV comedy series Dad's Army, Mapp and Lucia, Ever Decreasing Circles and The Good Life kept me amused, while watching John Adams and beginning series one of The West Wing had me glued to the screen with admiration for the better angels of American TV.
I can't understand why I had not watched The West Wing when it was first televised.

It was also very nice today to receive a Sunshine Award especially from Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise who is an inspiration to us all.
What am I reading at the moment? The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett.
More on that when I finish reading it tomorrow, but the first sentence of Maxine's review here sums up my opinion so far. I think I have worked out a solution but Nesbo always surprises me, and we will see.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Kristine and Reinhardt Ris are walking through the woods when a man walks quickly past them averting his eyes, and failing to return Kristine's broad smile. The man drives off in a white car and when they continue their walk they find the body of a young boy naked from the waist down.
The couple have different reactions to the discovery Reinhardt takes photos of the body, and is intensely interested in the case, while Kristine is shocked at the crime and also at her husband and his behavior.

'My guess is he has a false leg,' Reinhardt said. "If he ends up in court, we'll probably have to give evidence.'
Kjell shook his head in disbelief. 'Well, that's what you'll be hoping for,I know you. For Christ's sake, Reinhardt, all you did was see a man in the forest. Get over yourself.'

Konrad Sejer and Jakob Skarre begin a systematic investigation and find that a man in a white car has been regularly driving near Solberg School, which the young victim Jonas August attended.
Kristine begins to realise how bleak her life and marriage to Reinhardt has become, and then with the once peaceful community still in shock Edwin Asalid, a grossly obese child aged ten, goes missing.

I had not read Karin Fossum for some time and had forgotten just how good a crime novelist she was. In this case she was assisted by a smooth translation from Charlotte Barslund so that without the setting the reader might think they were reading a Ruth Rendell psychological mystery.
The detectives, Sejer and Skarre, almost fade into the background as Karin Fossum takes us on a journey into the lives of Kristine, of the damaged perpetrator, of Elfrid Lowe, the mother of Jonas, and of Tulla Asalid, mother of the obese missing child Edwin. Their world will never be the same again.
This crime will change lives and futures in so many ways as suspicion falls on local lonely men and a caring gay schoolteacher. Sejer and Skarre discuss difficult subjects in the mature intelligent balanced fashion as one would expect from policemen in a liberal Scandinavian country.
This is a story not only about paedophilia but also about more subtle forms of abuse, and the vulnerability of women in our modern societies.

Karin Fossum has a great skill in that she makes the reader feel sympathy for her characters, both the good and the bad. Her word portraits leave an indelible image in the brain and she writes movingly about the complexities in human relationships.
The Water's Edge was certainly on a higher intelligence level than a lot of crime fiction, and when I have time I will go back and read the Fossums I have missed.

'All I am saying is that it's frighteningly complex,' Skarre said. 'What is force? Is it force to use deceit? Is it morally reprehensible to entice anyone into bed? Should we even be seducing one another at all? It's not easy being a man and getting to grips with all these rules.'
Sejer looked at Skarre across the table. 'I have no wish at all to discuss my private life,'he said,' but following rules has never been a problem for me.'

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Thanks to Craig at Crime Watch for the news that the quest to decide the World's Favourite Detective at Jen's Book Thoughts has ended with victory for Harry Bosch over Philip Marlowe.
I find it interesting that both of these popular fictional detectives are named after historical characters.

Raymond Chandler was educated at Dulwich College, where the athletic houses are named after Tudor and Stuart era characters, Grenville, Sidney, Drake, Raleigh, Spenser and Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe[1564-1593] was an English dramatist and poet of that period whose plays included Dr Faustus and The Jew of Malta.

Michael Connelly named his detective after Hieronymus Bosch [1450-1516], a Dutch painter whose highly detailed and very moral works are crowded with half-human, half-animal creatures and grotesque demons.

Surprisingly at a time when crime fiction novels are located all over the world the two favourite detectives, Bosch and Marlowe, both worked in Los Angeles. Does this mean the best crime fiction writing is still coming from the USA?
My own A-Z of crime fiction featured 10 items from British writers, 6 items from the American writers [including one Chinese-American and one American living in Brazil], two items from Italy, two from Sweden, and one each from Norway, Iceland, Poland, Denmark, South Africa, and Algeria.
I did not realise I had been so parochial is picking 10 British writers.

Which country is now producing the "best" crime fiction?
If there was a prize, a World Cup of Crime Fiction, which country would win? Some people might say there are a plethora of prizes in crime fiction already, but why not one more just for fun.
The genre that writers from England, Scotland and the USA, with a little help from Georges Simenon virtually invented, is now seeing such an influx of good crime fiction from other countries that I would not like to bet on a winner, unless I knew the judges.
If each country had to select two or three current writers to represent them in a Crime Fiction World Cup I would suggest that Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Australia, France, Ireland and Italy might be strong contenders to defeat the old favourites England, Scotland and the USA.
What do you think? Who would you have to represent your country?
Some people will have worked that I would much rather read your comments even if they are totally dismissive of my idea than the ludicrous election material being stuffed into our letterbox on behalf of candidates we have not heard from since ................ the last election.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Another day, another challenge.
Dorte's 2010 Global Challenge is well advanced with only two Australasian books [both on my TBR pile] and one South American [on the way] to be read to complete my twelve books from six continents.
My plans for the rest of the year include reading all the short list for the CWA International Dagger, and attempting to pick the winner, something I failed to do last year.
To assist in reading all International Dagger short list I have taken up the Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010 at The Black Sheep Dances to read six books this year, or in my case before that short list is announced at Crime Fest.
I have over four weeks to go till Crime Fest so I hope to get through my Scandinavians and then read any non-Nordics on the International short list.
Perhaps there might be some French crime fiction on the list.

I have started the Scandinavian Challenge with The Water's Edge by that charming Norwegian author Karin Fossum.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The other day I finished reading The Informer by Craig Nova, and have just sent my review off to Karen of Euro Crime.
This gripping story is set in 1930 during those tumultuous years years leading up to the collapse of the Weimar Republic.
It was in the September 1930 Federal Election that an enormous political shift occurred with the NSDAP [Nazis] gaining 95 seats, and the vote was split:

SPD Social Democrats 24.5%
NSDAP Nazis 18.3%
KPD Communists 13.1%
Z Centre Party 11.8%

and so on through multiple parties down to the German-Hanoverian Party that received 0.4% of the vote and secured 3 seats.

Following the performance of their leader Nick Clegg in the tripartite television debate between the UK party leaders there are reports of polling that show the Liberal Democrats have moved into second place. The Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown apparently did not perform as well as Mr Clegg. With three parties obtaining almost equal percentages of the vote, a first past the post electoral system, and non-uniform constituency sizes we could be in for a strange result.

Therefore I have been playing around with the BBC Election seat calculator and if the voting is split:
Liberal Democrats 33.2%
Conservatives 31.7%
Labour 25.8%
Others 9.3%

The Parliamentary seats would be divided:
Liberal Democrat 139
Conservative 240
Labour 242
Others 29

Labour would finish third, but still be the largest party in the House of Commons, which would not be either healthy or a good advertisement for our democratic system.
We live in interesting times.

Experience teaches us that, generally speaking, the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways.
Alexis De Tocqueville

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for hosting this absorbing meme. The weeks seem to have rushed past and I for one have really enjoyed this task.
I managed to include so many of my favourite authors, and also discover some new writers to read more of in the future.

* These books were also included in Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The final part of my interview with Roger Morris.

10] How much time do you devote to research for the novels?

If you're not careful, the research can go on forever and you use it as a stalling device for not writing. There are two kinds of research.
The general background stuff which you do to try and build up an understanding of the period. Then there's the more specific research that comes about as a result of needing to find ann answer to a specific point that has arisen in the story. For the former I read general histories, memoirs, biographies, and of course novels of the period. For the latter, it's sometimes a question of tracking down a particular book that I think will help, or looking for answers on the internet.
There is a fabulous resource that I have discovered which has helped me enormously and that is the Encyclopedia of St Petersburg.
It has lots of pictures as well as a large range of entries about all aspects of life in the city over a vast period of time. also subscribe to Questia, which is an online library giving access to academic articles and books.
As for how much time I devote, that's like the old how long is a piece of string question. I think with A Razor Wrapped in Silk, I allowed myself about three months for the general stuff, then tried to answer specific questions as I went along.

11] If the books were filmed for TV or movies who would you like to play the parts of Porfiry Petrovich and Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky?

Ha! Someone suggested Timothy Spall for Porfiry Petrovich. I think he would probably be very good. Toby Young would be good too. I'm not sure about Virginsky. I don't know enough young actors! Maybe that guy they've just signed up to play Dr Who? [Matt Smith]

12] Do you think that reading about Russia's past helps us understand her rulers today?

That is an interesting question! Yes, I think so. So many centuries of being under tsarist rule, I think has left its mark. It seems they like a strong ruler over there, which may partly those topless photos of Putin that were released recently. Though, actually, I'm not sure anything can help us to understand that.

Thanks very much for this four part interview Roger, and the very interesting insights into writing historical crime fiction. I shall certainly be on the look out for the fourth Porfiry Petrovich book, The Superfluous Man when it is released in 2011.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


More from my interview with Roger Morris.

7] Did you originally plan to do a series of novels? Is there another book in the pipeline?

I wrote the first book and my agent said "You know, publishers quite like it if you have a series,so can you think up some other storylines ?" So I did. I cam up with three other storylines, of which A Razor Wrapped In Silk is the third. I'm working on the fourth, The Superfluous Man at the moment, and that is scheduled for release some time in 2011. That will bring me to the end of the quartet I originally planned.
My feeling is that I will leave it there as far as Porfiry Petrovich novels are concerned. It feels right to stop at that point.

8] Which crime fiction book would you like to have written?

The Talented Mr Ripley.

9] How long does it take to write one of the books? Do you write every day, what is your regime?

The time taken has varied. A Razor Wrapped In Silk took just over a year, I think A Vengeful Longing took longer, but I had a day job when I was writing that, so I had less time to spend writing. I do write every day, apart from weekends-usually-though there are times when I squeeze in a bit of writing at the weekend.
I walk my son to school at around nine o'clock, getting back just after nine. Then I have until ten past three when I have to pick him up again.
So I do have this very limited section of the day in which I can work without interruption[provided the phone does not ring, or someone come to the door]. On a good day, the time limit can be conducive to work because it focuses the mind. On a bad day, it can be very depressing because you see three o'clock approaching and you know you haven't written nearly enough.
My most productive period, usually, is the morning. I set myself a target number of words to write a day, which used to be 1,000 but increased recently to 2,500. I've been driving myself fairly ferociously with the new book.

[To be continued]

Monday, April 12, 2010


We have reached the end of the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. My contribution this week is Z is for Zeltserman, Dave Zeltserman's book Pariah.

Kyle Nevin is released from Cedar Junction at the end of an eight year stretch intent on exacting revenge on crime boss Red Mahoney, who set him up for this prison time. He also intends to re-establish his position, along with his brother Danny, as a hard man running 'Southie', and pull off one big job to set them up for life.
But Red Mahoney has disappeared, and the old Danny has gone.

The old Danny was now buried under the veneer of a blue-collar pussy whipped sushi-eating moke that his titless wonder of a girl friend had painted on.

In Scolley's, a world of Guinness and Bushmills, Kyle meets Nola, trolling for Irish bad boys and finding in Kyle the baddest of them all.
Naturally Kyle and Danny's last job goes wrong, but thanks to the American legal system, the media and the publishing industry the story does not finish there.

This is presumably a brilliant parody and scathing satire on all those books and films about Boston Irish gangsters and their families. In the later third of the story we move from parody to farce, but there is an unfortunate tinge of reality about the bizarre events that occur.
Ken Bruen writes that "in Kyle Nevin, we have the darkest, most alluring noir character ever to come down the South Boston Pike, or anywhere else in literature for that matter."

Pariah is a clever, fast read full of what purports to be black humour, but it just does not work for me.

Before going away, I was wearing Brooks Brothers everything, except underwear, which was Armani's. You also. Now you've got me wearing some no name brand.
That puts my outlet centre Tommy Hilfigers in their place.

But Pariah goes over the top, it was clearly meant to, but there is a limit, and Kyle Nevin is nothing more than a not very subtle violent brutal bully, with not one redeeming feature. Gratuitous violence isn't really funny under any circumstances, when children with a medical condition are involved I switch off, it is just bad taste.
Luckily I went back to recap the letters A and B which I had missed previously reading Andrea Camilleri and Deon Meyer as I did not want to finish such an enjoyable meme with a book I disliked.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I read Deon Meyer's Blood Safari set in South Africa as my second African novel for Dorte's 2010 Global Challenge.

Sometimes when I read a book by an author I have not read before I make an immediate connection. This might be because of having a similar sense of humour as with Andrea Camilleri and Hakan Nesser, or on a more personal level because of their sympathetic treatment of characters with Down's syndrome, as with Jo Nesbo and Colin Cotterill. I felt that immediate connection with Deon Meyer for a different reason, and will explain later.

Deon Meyer writes in Afrikaans, and Blood Safari was translated into English by K.L.Seegers so well that I would not have known it was translated crime fiction.

Emma le Roux, a rich beautiful petite career woman, watches a TV news flash about 'a shooting incident at Khokovela near the Kruger National Park in which a traditional healer and three local men have died. The remains of fourteen protected and endangered vultures were found at the scene.'

The police are looking for Jacobus de Villiers, who bears a strong resemblance to Emma's brother who disappeared over twenty years ago.
She phones the police station at Hoedspruit and enquires whether this Jacobus de Villiers could be he brother Jacobus le Roux. She is told it cannot be so, but later receives a mysterious phone call with a truncated message "Jacobus says you must...."

Then she is attacked in her Cape Town home by three men in balaclavas. Emma's reaction is to employ Body Armour, a personal executive security firm run by Jeanette Louw, a bottle-blonde lesbian in her fifties with a liking for Gauloise cigarettes, and seducing recently divorced, hurting, heterosexual women.
Jeanette allocates Lemmer, a taciturn professional bodyguard, a man who has created a wall between himself and his clients, to the task of guarding Emma. They fly north to the Kruger National Park to find Jacobus de Villiers, or le Roux, where they become involved in the dangerous conflicts between conservationists and tribal peoples, as well as those other conflicts from the past history of this very troubled land.

This is a brilliant exciting tale, full of interesting back stories about the characters, and explanations about conservation problems. The strained relationships between black and white, and between English and Afrikaner are explored.
It is a thriller packed full of information, but it is so well done that when you are lectured about vultures or tribal land rights you almost don't notice. It may be perhaps fifty pages too long but that could be said about much modern crime fiction.

The world is becoming so similar where ever you are:

The Ford dealership was still there with the same name. New owners. The whole of Seapoint was full of new people. The Italians had gone, and the Greeks. Of the Jews, only the women were still there, old ladies walking along the seafront alone or in groups waiting for their children to come to visit them.
There were Nigerians and Somalis, Russians and Romanians, Bosnians, Chinese, Iraqis. New tribes that I could not be a part of.

Deon Meyer's opinion of parts of his own tribe are not always complimentary, and he describes South Africa's internal security problems succinctly.

Lemmer's Law of Rich Afrikaners: If a Rich Afrikaner can show off, he will.
The Rich Afrikaner does not use bodyguards, only home security-high fences, expansive alarms, panic buttons, and neighbourhood security companies with armed response.

My own personal liking for the character of Lemmer was based on several factors including:

Lemmer's Law of Small Women: Never trust them. Not professionally, nor personally.

A bit harsh, but Lemmer is obviously bitter about his past experiences. This rule might have been useful some forty years ago.
My compatibility with Lemmer was cemented by this passage:

Sexual Astrology: Sensual Compatability.
I pulled out the last book and opened it. What was Emma's star sign? She had said she shared a birthday with the old South Africa: 6 April.
Another Aries, just like me. [and me and Mrs Crime Scraps]

I looked in the index and found the reference. Aries and Aries. An excellent match, with an intense sexual attraction and mutual erotic satisfaction............

I will be looking out for more exciting thrillers by Deon Meyer, and hopefully he will bring back the character of Lemmer in a future book.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Regular visitors to Crime Scraps [there surely must be a few] will know that I am addicted to the Salvo Montalbano books written by the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri. Last year thanks to the good offices of Maxine of Petrona I was asked to produce a piece for Picador which can be found here entitled "Appreciating Camilleri".

If I had started the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at "A" instead of joining in at "C" I would certainly have used A for Andrea. Andrea Camilleri.

The Wings of the Sphinx is the eleventh Montalbano mystery to be translated into English by the American poet Stephen Sartarelli. Sartarelli's translations always do a good job differentiating the various voices and brilliantly capture the charm of Sicily's Mrs Malaprop, Catarella, one of the great comic characters in modern crime fiction. Also Sartarelli's superb notes at the end of the books make both informative and interesting reading.

It is usually extremely difficult to maintain a uniformly high standard in a long running crime fiction series. But although they naturally vary a bit along the way all the Montalbano books are good, mainly because they do not rely on the plots, but much more on the wonderful characters, clever humour, descriptions of fishy meals and the Sicilian atmosphere. The Wings of the Sphinx is in my opinion one of the best of the series.

Montalbano's faltering long distance relationship with Livia is in crisis. The detective now fifty six is feeling his age and regretting his lost opportunities. In Wings of the Sphinx he has to deal with two cases, one serious; a young woman found dead with her face half shot off and the only hint to her identity a tattoo of a sphinx moth; and one possibly less so as the kidnapping of the fifty-year-old wholesaler in wood, Arturo Picarella, might have something to do with a stewardess he met flying back from Sweden, especially as he happened to have his passport on him when seized.

The tattoo links the murdered girl to several other similarly marked girls from the same town in Russia, and a 'benevolent' Catholic charity.
The police investigation involves piecing together a complex trail that is possibly easier to unravel than Montalbano's chaotic personal problems.

The Wings of the Sphinx is a short book but contains all the idiosyncratic characters that make the books such a success Montalbano, Catarella, Fazio, Mimi Augello, Livia, Dr Pasquano and the Swedish beauty Ingrid all have a part to play. Once again Andrea Camilleri proves he can in a mere 200 plus pages produce a gem of a story.

...Francesco Di Noto. Decked out in Armani, top-of-the -line loafers worn without socks, Rolex, shirt open to a golden crucifix suffocating in a forest of unkempt, rampant black hair.
He was surely the idiot tooling around in the Ferrari. But the inspector wanted confirmation.
"My compliments on your beautiful car."
"Thanks. It's a 360 Modena. I've also got a Porsche Carrera."
Double cretin with fireworks.

If you have not read this series yet you are in for a rare treat, and luckily for us Camilleri fanatics those magic words 'not yet translated from the Italian' refer to at least four more Montalbano books.

The sea wasn't calm yet, but neither was it so rough as to prevent the fishing boats from going out. He felt comforted by the thought that he could finally eat fresh fish at Enzo's.
So comforted that he went back to bed and slept for three more hours to make up for the sleep he'd lost.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Some more questions for Roger Morris.

4] Why did you choose to write historical crime fiction?

Well, I had this idea! You know, sometimes as a writer, you are the victim of your ideas. If an idea comes to you and won't let you go, then you have to write it. But I suppose I am drawn to the idea of writing historical fiction, because I find that I want to imagine what life was like before I was born, before the world I have direct experience of existed.
But as for why historical crime, as opposed to historical romance, or straight historical fiction, I suppose I must be also drawn to exploring the darker aspects of human life.

5] Why Tsarist Russia? Why Dostoevsky? Did you visit Russia before you wrote the books?

As I've already said, I first attempted to read Dostoevsky when I was a little bit too young to fully understand or appreciate him. There was a Penguin Classics edition of Crime and Punishment in my school library and I think the blurb described it as one of the world's first detective stories. That's what first attracted me.

It isn't really a detective story at all, of course, though there is a detective in it-Porfiry Petrovich. I was into detective stories, so I took it out. I suppose that slightly misleading blurb stayed with me and made me think that somebody somebody should write a detective story with Porfiry Petrovich as the hero. I always thought somebody else would do it. Then as the years went by, and I realised nobody else had, I decided to have a go. It was an insanely ambitious idea really.

And to answer the last question, no, I hadn't been to Russia, except in my imagination, when I wrote A Gentle Axe, though I did go after I wrote it and while I was working on A Vengeful Longing.

6] Did you think you would be criticized for taking Dostoevsky's character and using him in your novels?

Yes, I did. And I have been in a few places-but surprisingly few actually. My own attitude to this was influenced by studying classics. The classical authors freely used characters from mythology in their work. The archetype of the detective is part of modern mythology, and Porfiry Petrovich is one instance of that archetype. It was a cheeky idea, I know, a massively cheeky idea. But that was partly why it appealed to me.

[To be continued. The rest of the Roger Morris interview will be posted next week]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


As a fan of historical crime fiction I particularly enjoyed A Razor Wrapped In Silk by R.N. Morris, the third book in the Porfiry Petrovich series set in St Petersburg in the late nineteenth century. This must be a strong contender for the 2010 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award, and therefore I was very pleased when Roger Morris agreed to be interviewed.

1] Roger, did you always want to be a writer?

Pretty much, yes. I loved writing stories as a child. And I loved those complicated imaginative games where you make up characters and situations and adventures. I was always pretending to be someone else.
I really wanted to be called Napoleon, after Napoleon Solo from the Man from U.N.C.L.E. I thought he was the coolest person in the world and I really felt badly let down by by my parents for not calling me Napoleon. It took me quite a time to get over that.
The Avengers were a big influence on me too. I remember dressing up as Steed. I've seen my kids play similar games. Sometimes they've gone on for days. But also I loved reading. From a very young age it occurred to me that writing was the best job on earth. It just took me an awful long time to get there.

2] Which authors did you read as a child, and who particularly inspired you?

I read lots of comics, of course, The Beano, Dandy, Victor, Hotspur, Beezer.
As for books, my favourites were the Paddington Books by Michael Bond, Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge, Biggles books by W.E. Johns, Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven books. I also liked Professor Branestawm books by Norman Hunter, which I see have been recently re-issued.

Then I seriously got into Alan Garner and Leon Garfield. I think it was Leon Garfield who really inspired me to write historical fiction. I remember reading in one of his novels , Devil -in-the -Fog, I think it was, about a young lad of my own age at the time [ie about 10] who drank gin. It opened my eyes to the the fact that the past was very different.
I also remember enjoying R.L. Stevenson. Adventure stories, really. Boys stuff. Getting a little bit older, I was definitely into Sherlock Holmes. And I liked Sexton Blake series on the TV, though I never read the books. As a precocious teenager, I attempted Crime and Punishment for the first time.
I was drawn to the combination of Russian angst and axe-murdering.

3] Do you read crime fiction, and which authors are your favourites?

Yes, I do read crime fiction, though not exclusively and there are huge embarrassing gaps in my crime fiction reading. I need to read more.
I always find it hard to pull out 'favourite' authors. I am reading Roberto Bolano's 2666, which is a massive novel, and should probably not be classified as a crime novel at all, as it is very literary. But there are a series of crimes at the centre of it and i have just got to the 'Part about the crimes', which is extremely engrossing in the way the best crime novels are. again, another book that is not properly classified as a crime novel, but has a crime at the heart of it is Jim Crace's Being Dead. But I am always looking for recommendations!

[To be continued]

Monday, April 05, 2010


I joined the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme which has been hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise at the letter C, therefore although we are coming to the end of this meme I will go back and add letters A and B after we have finished next week.

Yasmina Khadra, and the book is Dead Man's Share.

Algeria 1988.
Superintendent Brahim Llob is shaken from a period of bored inactivity by two major problems.
Professor Allouche an eminient psychoanalyst, an educated man in a 'revolutionary country where charisma swears enmity to talent' warns Llob that a psychopathic killer only known as SNP [sans nom patronymique] is to be released on a Presidential pardon.
Meanwhile his Lieutenant Lino is smitten by a young beauty Nedjma, who unfortunately has a previous lover the influential and wealthy Haj Thobane, a zaim [a Turkish chief heading a mounted militia, a leader].
When Nedjma goes back to the zaim, a heartbroken Lino goes on a drinking binge, and someone attempts to murder Haj Thobane killing his driver by mistake. Cartridges with Lino's fingerprints are left at the scene and Lino is arrested and thrown into the terrible dungeons of the secret police.
The psychopath SNP is shot dead allegedly attempting to kill Haj Thobane. In order to help Lino and uncover the motive that SNP had for his murder attempt on Haj Thobane, Llob travels to Sidi Ba, a dump trapped among the saw-toothed mountains between Algiers and Medea to uncover past history.

; the town is proof that men have reached the peak of their genius and, and having run out of ideas, are embarking on the human adventure in reverse, which is to say backwards to the Stone age, with an enthusiasm equal to the first cave-dwellers.

He is encouraged and accompanied on this task by the beautiful historian/ journalist Soria Karadach, who has a list of witnesses to some of the past horrors committed during the war of independence. Witnesses are murdered, and the bodies begin to pile up as they learn more about that terrible conflict, as the book moves towards a bleak conclusion.

"They've left us with nothing, those rich shits, nothing, not a crumb, not an illusion. They've stolen history, our opportunities, our ambitions, our dreams, even our innocence."

Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former high ranking officer in the Algerian army, who went into exile in France in 2000.
Dead Man's Share is a brilliantly written book, whose translation from the French by Aubrey Botsford has retained the sharp acerbic wit and humour in the dialogue and the blistering anger in the narrative. Yasmina has a wonderful grasp of language and paints word portraits of people, events and a corrupt country in sharp brisk sentences. From his earlier book Double Blank one line that is particularly apt:

Our country needs neither prophets, nor a president. It needs an exorcist.

Dead Man's Share is a complicated story told in a first person narrative by Llob, a dedicated family man and honest cop, who loves his country but not the people who run things.
Algeria's War of Liberation is also an extremely complex subject as the reader learns about the treatment handed out to the harkis and their families during the brutal war of liberation. [Harkis: Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries with the French army during the Algerian War (1954-1962)]. There were terrible atrocities committed on both sides during those years, that still have repercussions in French and Algerian life today.
There is a sad irony in that shortly after the events portrayed in this book one of the most appalling civil wars in the history of the Mediterranean basin broke out in Algeria between the regime and Islamic fundamentalists.

They stand up straight every morning, insults to the memory of the Departed: every evening, they lie down like dogs on the mattress of their promises.

Dead Man's Share will be my first African contribution to Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge.

My previous posts about Yasmina Khadra here and here.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


I know how much some brave souls enjoy doing the quirky quiz so I have managed to come up with a fairly short and simple effort, which will hopefully keep you amused for a few minutes.
It is only three weeks since my operation, when by all accounts my blood pressure dropped precipitously and the lack of blood took out a few million brain cells so naturally this quiz is easier than some previous tests.
The prize as usual will be a book chosen from some classic crime fiction.

1] How are a Greek province, a trader in ship and boat supplies, and a misspelt muscular pump linked to different forms of a chemical substance?

2] Who lost a name, the art of pulling together, and a burial place on an Atlantic crossing?

3] How are transport to a musical festival, biblical daughters, a lengthy conundrum, and a path through trees all linked to the Jew of Malta?

I told you they were easy. Good Luck.
Please send answers to by midnight Friday 16 April BST.