Friday, May 28, 2010


Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children Belle and Warren move into a villa at Cholong-sur-Avre, Normandy in the middle of the night.

Fred claims to the locals that he is a writer, but his real name is Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-Mafia boss who is the diamond in the FBI witness-protection program. Fred's evidence had sent down Don Mimino, the capo di tutti i capi, for a mere 351 years, and he has a twenty million dollar bounty on his head.
As the American family try to settle into life in a small provincial French town they begin to give themselves away with some eccentric behaviour that is normal in New Jersey, and cause serious problems for their FBI protection team of Tom Quintiliani, Di Cicco and Caputo. All seven frequently show their Italian American origins.

"Butter impregnates the tissues, it blocks everything, it hockey sticks. Olive oil only touches on your insides and slides through, just leaving its scent."
"Olive oil is in the Bible."

It won't be long before their cover is blown.

This book is blurbed as "imagine moving the Soprano family to Normandy" and despite only having watched one episode of The Sopranos I do get the idea.

Tonino Benacquista, born in France of Italian immigrant parents is a highly acclaimed author of crime fiction novels and film scripts in France. I have read his first novel to be translated into English, Holy Smoke, which was great fun.
Badfellas was translated from the French by Emily Read, and luckily none of the black comedy and sharp witty satire seem to have been lost.
The scenes where Fred and Tom Quintiliani go to the local cinema club to see Some Came Running with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and unfortunately the wrong film has been sent are hilarious.

The wrong film, is Goodfellas! And a question from the audience give Fred an opportunity to tell a story, that has villagers phoning friends to come and listen and Quintiliani wondering if he has gone mad.

"When you're living in New York, are you aware of the presence of the Mafia , as shown in films?"

I am one of those old fashioned people who like my crime fiction not to glorify violence, or violent gangs, and for "good" to triumph in the end. That is why I love The Godfather Trilogy because the films have the message of retribution for evil acts, and of course Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part Two produces one of the greatest acting performances in film history.

So I have this little niggle in the back of my mind about Badfellas, and the author choosing a Mafia snitch as the novel's hero?

It is only a little niggle because Badfellas is such an amusing book that keeps the reader's interest with some clever storytelling involving the teenage children's adventures at school, Maggie's [real name Livia] motherly relationship with the FBI minders, unlucky Italian-Americans far from home, and a school magazine's long journey round the world to Ryker's Island.

In New Jersey, the man with the stupid hat would not have survived more than two weeks, he would have been taught to hold his tongue from earliest childhood,or he would have had it cut off with a razor-sharp switchblade-the operation wouldn't have taken a minute.

This was the fifth book I read from the six book CWA International Dagger shortlist.

Monday, May 24, 2010


When Maria is found hanging from a beam in her holiday cottage at Lake Thingvallavatn is seems like a straightforward suicide. But when Karen, the friend who found her body, gives Erlendur a tape of a seance Maria had attended he becomes intrigued by the case.
Why did this woman end her life? Was she still grieving at the loss of her mother Leonora to cancer two years earlier, and was her history of depression perhaps caused by a long ago tragic boating accident that killed her father.
Erlendur preoccupied by her story starts an unofficial investigation, and at the same time looks into two separate thirty year old unsolved cases involving the disappearance of two young people.
Erlendur hopes at least to solve the mystery of the missing young man before his ailing father dies.
But Erlendur's search to find some answers to her suicide in Maria's tragic past uncovers some harsh realities, and make him think back once again to his own childhood trauma at the loss of his young brother in a storm on Mount Hardskafi.

"...was said to be left gloomy and withdrawn by his ordeal."

This is the sixth book in Arnaldur Indridason's award winning Erlendur series to be translated into English, this one by Victoria Cribb, who took over from the sadly deceased Bernard Scudder during the translation of the previous book Artic Chill.

Gripping and haunting are probably much overused terms when it comes to reviewing books, but each applies to this absolutely brilliant book. Not surprisingly it has been shortlisted for the 2010 CWA International Dagger, and was named as one of the Best Crime Books of the Decade by The Times.

Detective stories sometimes seem like you are peeling away the layers of an onion to get at the truth. In Hypothermia it is almost like you are watching a methodical detective doing a jigsaw puzzle putting together the pieces to solve a mystery, while at the same time as the author is constructing a superb crime fiction book by placing those jigsaw pieces perfectly on the page.
This is a melancholic story full of regret and sadness with Erlendur's own failings as a father and husband being reflected in the characters around him. His strained relationship with his daughter Eva Lind always plays a major part in the stories.

'Do you think you can ever forgive me?' Erlendur asked, looking at his daughter.
She didn't answer him but stared up at the sky with her arms behind her head and her legs crossed.
'I know people are responsible for their own fates,' she said at last.

I am not going to comment on which book should win the 2010 International Dagger until I have read all six shortlisted novels, but if delicious food is taken into consideration the Sicilian Andrea Camilleri may have the edge.

On the same shopping trip Erlendur had also bought some sour-lamb rolls, fatty breast meat on the bone and a portion of sheep's head in jelly that he kept in a tub of pickling whey out on his balcony.

Arnaldur Indridason's Hypothermia is a brilliant crime fiction novel that starts slowly and then draws the reader in to a beautifully constructed story. I can't recommend it highly enough as it is a wonderful addition to a superb series.

It was also the fourth book I read of the six books shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The Observer reports that Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hoffman which I reviewed on Euro Crime last year has become a "surprise hit' with over 100,000 sales in three months.
I am not surprised by Alone In Berlin's success, because it tells the story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

What do you do when your entire country is stolen by a gang of criminals?

Friday, May 21, 2010


The shortlist for the CWA International Dagger was announced at Crime Fest 2010 tonight.

by Tonino Benacquista, translated by Emily Read (Bitter Lemon Press)
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Picador)
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Press)
Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer,, translated by K.L. Seegers (Hodder and Stoughton)
The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)

The winner will be announced on 23 July so I do have time to read the two remaining books that I have not started [Thirteen Hours and Badfellas] and finish Hypothermia, which I have just begun.

My first reaction is that I would not like to have to choose between such a formidable lineup of books, as from my reading experience, all these authors are superb writers. But I will give my opinion for what it is worth, and pick my winner before the judges give their verdict.

Secondly I am surprised that The Snowman by Jo Nesbo translated by Don Bartlett, and The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell translated by Laurie Thompson have not made the list.
But with books from France, Italy, Iceland, Sweden, South Africa and Sweden we have a nice range of countries.

The past winners of the International Dagger since its inception in 2006 have been all French, and Fred Vargas has won three times:

2006-The Three Evangelists: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds
2007-Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds
2008-Lorraine Connection: Dominique Manotti translated by Roz Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson
2009-The Chalk Circle Man: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds

My posts relating to last year's International Dagger Award:

Back to reading for now, but I will be most interested to see if the French monopoly will be broken this year. [Sorry this is a bit difficult to read but I am blaming blogger]

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Unfortunately I won't be at Crime Fest 2010 in Bristol this year, but hopefully we will be able to get early news of the International Dagger shortlist either from live blogging by Karen Meek [founder of the Euro Crime website and a judge this year] or from the CWA International Daggers website here shortly after 7.00 pm on Friday 21 May.

Photographs taken at Crime Fest 2009.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


UPDATE: This blog is now dormant you can read all the old posts and lots of new material at Crime Scraps Review.

The coastal resort town of Fjallbacka is again the location of Camilla Lackberg's third novel to be translated into English by Steven Murray [aka Reg Keeland] perhaps now more famous as Stieg Larsson's translator.

Erica Falck, and local detective Patrik Hedstrom, are now the proud parents of a baby girl Maja. Unfortunately Erica is suffering from a severe case of post natal depression that has left her listless and exhausted, and Patrik is not as sympathetic to her problems as he should be. Erica meanwhile has become close friends with Charlotte, another young mother, who along with her husband Niclas has relocated back to Fjallbacka, where they grew up. They have moved in with her mother, Lilian and her ailing stepfather Stig, while they look for a house of their own.
Charlotte has her own marital problems with husband, Niclas, a tall, blond attractive doctor, who is estranged from his religious fanatic father. Her mother Lilian is involved in a long running acrimonious dispute with the neighbour Kaj, whose son Morgan, a computer expert, has Asperger's syndrome.
Charlotte's life is then torn apart when a lobster fisherman finds her daughter Sara drowned. When the medical examiner finds bath water in Sara's lungs Fjallbacka's police department realises it has a child murder case on their hands.

Interwoven with this main story are brief passages of a prolonged back story involving Agnes, an attractive and spoilt young woman, and Anders, the eponymous Stone-Cutter.

Men were like apples on a tree, and she only needed to reach out her hand to pick them,....

As the investigation proceeds we realise that almost everyone involved has secrets to hide, and that the detectives are being hampered by incompetent members of their team.

I approach my assessment of this novel with some trepidation because Camilla Lackberg sells huge numbers of books in Sweden, and she does write with great understanding and skill about domestic issues. Post natal depression, spousal abuse, child abuse and public attitudes to conditions such as Asperger's syndrome are such serious issues that it is no surprise that she has a dedicated readership. These are just as valid subjects for crime fiction as the mid life crisis male alcoholism, that plays such a big part in other novels.
But I was a little disappointed with the detection part of the story, and in crime fiction the investigation should be carried out in at least a reasonably efficient manner.
I can't see any of Patrik's colleagues being rushed in to head an important investigation in Goteborg or Malmo, without considerable retraining.

The residents of Fjallbacka have such a plethora of problems, that at times it seemed as if Ms Lackberg is trying to cover too much ground, and provide too much material for one old reader to digest. While having so many suspects can be very entertaining, it was sometimes difficult to follow all the numerous sub-plots with their cast of eccentric characters.

I did however enjoy solving the not too difficult murder puzzle, and perhaps my disappointment was caused by raised expectations of a more clever plot twist at the end.

This was the fourth book I read for the six book Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010 at The Black Sheep Dances.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I do read a lot of books that are not historical crime fiction, but sometimes that does not appear to be the case. I certainly do enjoy historical crime fiction especially when the writer has taken care to do careful research, and create a believable atmosphere.

In The Informer by Craig Nova "you can smell the cigars, sausages and perfumes of Weimar Berlin."

Saturday, May 15, 2010


If you read this post at Bernadette's blog Reactions to Reading you will find out why I am having trouble balancing my big head on my weakened knee.

"This excellent review at Crime Scraps [the blog which has single -handedly rekindled my interest in historical fiction over the past year or so....."

Thanks Bernadette for those kind comments which made my day.

Friday, May 14, 2010


When Dorte of DJS Krimiblog reviewed The German Brat by Camilla Lackberg [not yet translated into English] she warned:

"If you are allergic to soft men, nappies, and parental leave, stay clear of this novel!"

At present I am reading an earlier Camilla Lackberg, The Stone Cutter, translated by Steven Murray [and very kindly sent to me by Maxine of Petrona Towers] and am finding it slightly heavy going. As I am only about a third of the way through I am going to reserve my judgement until I have finished, but after reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, and The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell in quick succession the readjustment to more mundane domestic issues is proving difficult.
Perhaps my problem is that all the female characters have been given very good reasons for being utterly miserable, and with most of the male characters being "soft", the book wallows in depression and melancholia.

I am sure that as soon as I become used to the massive style differential between Henning Mankell's global economic strategic studies, and Camilla Lackberg's breast feeding schedules I will begin to enjoy The Stone Cutter much more.

Does Camilla Lackberg deliberately try to increase her female readership by giving so many varied domestic problems to her female characters?

Do her books appear at times to be more soap operas than crime fiction?


Thanks to Shots magazine where I picked up the news that Philippe Claudel's superb novel Brodeck's Report has won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

You can read my February 2009 review of Brodeck's Report at Euro Crime.
One of the perks of blogging is getting to read, courtesy of Karen of Euro Crime in this case, some superb books before they become prize winners.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The postman brought me a nice surprise this morning.
I needed cheering up after watching various politicians on the news giving us Silvio Berlusconi impressions.

No party now had a majority, and the existing administration, led by Bruning and Severing, carried on as a minority government with a correspondingly weakened political legitimacy. Beyond this, too, a sense of impotence had spread throughout the party leadership during the long months of passive toleration of Bruning's savage policy of cuts.

[From The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans]

But Rob Kitchin, Professor at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, wiped away the gloom and these morbid and pessimistic thoughts by sending me a signed ARC of his second crime novel The White Gallows [release date June 12th].
I really enjoyed his first book The Rule Book, and was chuffed to see part of my review was used as a blurb.

I did however have a quick glance at the acknowledgements at the end of The White Gallows and noted three books 'proved useful in providing information about IG Farben, Monowitz, the Ahnerbe, the Jewish Skeleton project, and Skorzeny's time in Ireland.'

Industry and Ideology:IG Farben in the Nazi Era-Peter Hayes
The Master Plan:Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust-Heather Pringle
Hitler's Irishmen-Terence O'Neill

Maybe my choice of the Richard Evans quote was relevant to The White Gallows as well as the political result of balanced parliaments.
I suspect Rob Kitchin's second novel featuring Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy is going to be an intriguing read, and I will move it into a prime slot on my TBR pile.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The secret negotiations that are going on at this moment between various British politicians are probably a major argument against any change in the first past the post system. I don't believe any of the leaders has a mandate from those who voted for them to negotiate away their manifesto policies merely to obtain power. OK, I am very naive, but also very concerned at the phrases that are being used to remove decision making from the public arena, and our parliament, into Tammany Hall style party headquarters.

The phrases "balanced parliament" and "coalition building" are clever euphemisms for repeated chaos and political chicanery after every election.
The Reichstags after the two German Federal Elections in 1932 were certainly well balanced, and most coalitions are notoriously unstable.

The other phrase being used is an "alliance of the progressive parties" which means Labour, who have progressively lost 5 million votes since 1997, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Green MP and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists [Plaid Cymru]. How will that go down with English voters?

We have also seen the Liberal Democrats calling for electoral reform and a much fairer voting system. I am all for that because our system is flawed and grossly unrepresentative of the wishes of the people. No one can justify an electoral system where one party receives 168,216 votes and has 8 MPs, while another receives 917,832 and does not have a single representative in parliament.

We have seen on our TV screens the leader of a party [Scottish Nationalists] that received only 1.7% of the votes cast talking about forming a coalition with another party [ Plaid Cymru] that received 0.6% of the votes cast to help keep a discredited Prime Minister in power.
Are these current and any future negotiations really about achieving a fairer system, or are they just about the search for political power by politicians who were possibly complicit in the expenses scandal that rocked the nation last year?

With all this talk of a fairer voting system it is interesting, and quite worrying, that the two parties that received the fourth and fifth largest share of the votes did not succeed in getting even one single MP elected. They were UKIP 917,832, and the BNP 563,743, and before we make any changes to the electoral system we should consider all the implications.

But there are certainly two urgent measures that need to be implemented as soon as possible:
1] Constituencies have to be redrawn with equal sized populations.

2] Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs should not be allowed to vote on English matters that have been devolved in their own to their own parliaments and assemblies.
If English MPs cannot vote on these devolved matters when they affect Scotland, why on earth should Scottish MPs vote on what happens in England.

Wheel and deal: to engage in commercial or political scheming.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


In 2006 at Hesjovallen, a remote village in Northern Sweden, nineteen people, all very old and related to each other, have been brutally murdered. The local police lead by Vivi Sundberg, a red haired powerfully built woman in her fifties are stunned by the enormity of the crime. Sundberg has no answers to the many questions these murders raise, Sweden is not used to the media frenzy such events cause, and the only clue is a red ribbon found in the forest near the village.
Birgitta Roslin, is a district judge in Helsinborg, she is married to Staffan, who after having completing his law studies decided to retrain as a railway conductor. They have four grown up children, and now Staffan and Birgitta have grown apart.
Birgitta reads about the case and realises that two of the murdered people, the Andrens, are her deceased mother's foster parents. She reads some old documents left by her mother and discovers that one member of the Andren family in Hesjovallen had emigrated to Minnesota more than 100 years ago.
Then with an internet search she finds that four members of the Andren family near Reno, Nevada had also recently been murdered.
Birgitta travels to Hesjovallen where she finds a nineteenth century diary, and that a Chinese man had visited the village on the day of the massacre. The man ate in a local Chinese restaurant which has a lamp with a missing red ribbon. The police have arrested a suspect, a local man with psychological problems, who has confessed. When he commits suicide they are relieved and wind down the investigation.
But Birgitta with a photograph of the Chinese man taken by a hotel CCTV camera travels to Beijing with her friend, Karin Wiman, who is attending a Sinology conference. Birgitta is robbed in the street, and then meets an enigmatic security official, Hong Qiu, who is assigned to make sure the rest of her trip runs smoothly. Hong Qiu, who is connected to the crimes in Sweden takes Birgitta to see a court in action, and looks after her the rest of her stay, but their meeting will put both Birgitta and Hong Qiu in great danger.

Inserted into this main narrative is an historical back story that explains the motive for the horrific crimes, and also who committed them.

The Man from Beijing, which has been translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson, is probably the most ambitious book written by Henning Mankell. Perhaps it is almost too ambitious as it takes the reader from Sweden, to China and on to Zimbabwe and Mozambique, along with journeys backwards in time to 19th century China, USA and Britain. For most of the book I was gripped and intrigued, although we are told who arranged the killings, we don't know how things will end up. But the sections of the book set in modern China and Africa seemed a bit repetitive as a political message about China's future was hammered home page after page.

There is nothing new about the search for lebensraum, mass movement of subject populations, or colonial domination exerted on poor countries by Communist regimes. For example in the 1970s Cuban officials were prominent in Jamaica and the Seychelles. Also despite what our younger generation are taught in school brutal colonialism is not the sole prerogative of the white man as Japan's Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere during the Second World War shows. I watched a schools program on television the other week about Mexico which described the brutality of the Conquistadors, but failed to mention any activities of the Aztecs, or why their subject peoples rose against them. Political rant over. Sorry.

While I found these sections rather slow, and a bit predictable, one of my main criteria for good crime fiction is that it makes you think, and in this The Man from Beijing certainly succeeded.

I also like well drawn interesting characters and Birgitta Roslin fitted that bill superbly; I do hope Henning Mankell uses her again. Interestingly her experience made her despair over some of the failings of liberal Swedish judicial system. Her cases in the district court featured people smugglers called Abdul Ibn Yamed, who drove round in a Mercedes, Romanian credit card swindlers, and violent Vietnamese and this information made me wonder if Henning Mankell had become even more disenchanted with the Swedish utopia, and at times I even wondered whether I was reading extracts from the British right wing press. When I have time I will go back and re-read some of his earlier books and see if his ideas have changed that much over the years.

'New ways of thinking always arouse opposition. Nobody was more aware of that than Mao and Deng. They were brothers in the sense that they were never afraid of new ideas and were always on the lookout for ways to give the poor people of this world a better life, in the name of solidarity.'

Thursday, May 06, 2010


It is election day at last, and I looked up the opening words of the prologue of Philip Kerr's The One From The Other set in Berlin 1937:

I remember how good the weather was that September. Hitler weather they called it. As if the elements were disposed to be kind to Adolf Hitler, of all people.

On this UK election day the heavens have opened and the rain has been bucketing down. I am therefore assuming the bad weather is a good sign for democracy.

On a lighter note Adrian McKinty recently won an award in the Rising Star category from Spinetingler magazine for his novel Fifty Grand, which has moved up a couple of notches on my TBR shelf.
Adrian's blog The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is always interesting and he has posted recently about which baseball team you are allowed to root for, and about the Liberal Democrat manifesto.
Purely for fun I thought I would pick my England Crime Fiction Writers Baseball team. This would allow me to place nine writers in a batting order with the heavy hitters, as in cricket, in the heart of the order at 3,4, and 5. It also allows me to manipulate the American League designated hitter DH rule to allow a designated dead writer DDW in the lineup.
I have tried to keep the choice to English born writers, that I have read, and who set their books in England. I suspect only Scotland, Sweden and the USA could rustle up a team to challenge this group.

1. Mark Billingham
2. John Lawton
3. Colin Dexter
4. Agatha Christie [DDW]
5. Reginald Hill
6. Ruth Rendell
7. P.D.James
8. Peter Robinson [I know he lives in Canada now, but his novels are very English]
9. Martin Edwards

My excuse for this frivolity is that the idea of a "hung" or "balanced" parliament with all the political chicanery that will involve has addled my brain.

I hope this is the dark part of the night, which is generally just before the day.

General Nathaniel Greene quoted in 1776 America and Britain at War: David McCullogh

Monday, May 03, 2010


Earlier in the year I posted my theory on why Scandinavian Crime Fiction was so popular at the moment.
I felt that basically good writing, excellent translating, good plots, really interesting characters and an attempt to educate as well as entertain were the keys to this success. Some pretty good marketing has also had a part to play.

I am about half way through Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing and this wide ranging saga with an educational back story about the exploitation and humiliation of China, and the Chinese, in nineteenth century has me hooked.
Mankell gives us a picture of that time and its blatant racism without pulling any punches, and that is what makes this book so interesting.

'But you mustn't forget that the Chinese are also base and cunning liars and swindlers: they are arrogant and greedy and have a bestial sensuality that sometimes disgusts me. On the whole they are a worthless people.'

But he also makes reference to modern events that I suspect have been gleaned from real life, and do not reflect too well on our present day society.
I was particularly interested in the 19th century China section of the book, because forty years ago I was considering giving up dentistry, and studying history. [Most dentists working in the NHS during those underpaid and overworked times considered giving up almost every morning.]
I already had my dental degree but took A-level History, which in those days consisted of one paper on European History, one on English History, and a chosen special subject from a long list.
I chose as my special subject The Great Powers in the Far East 1840-1941, passed the exam, but fate intervened when I was given the opportunity to buy the practice I was working in at the time.


The day the UK 2010 election was called by PM Gordon Brown I received a postal package from the USA. It was an ARC of the second book in Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel series entitled A Night of Long Knives.
I was totally enthralled by the first book in the series A Trace of Smoke set in 1931 Berlin before the Nazi takeover.

"The geography, attitudes and corrupt feel of the city is described in meticulous and fascinating detail.....It is engrossing and absorbing but not always comfortable outstanding book.

You can read the full review of A Trace of Smoke here.

Having been among the first to praise the book, I was very pleased to learn that Rebecca won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award for a mystery set before 1950. The award was given at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Los Angeles on 13 March, 2010.

A Night of Long Knives is set in 1934, a time of great turmoil in Nazi Germany. From the cover blurb: Journalist Hannah Vogel has vowed never again to set foot in Germany while the Nazis are still in power.....Hannah is asked to write about a zeppelin journey from South America to Switzerland-but Switzerland turns out to be too close.

This sounds intriguingly good and I will be reading and posting a review of A Night of Long Knives some time before the publication date on 22 June.

But before that after 6 May UK election day we will probably see some metaphorical long knives out among the politicians in the UK.