Wednesday, June 30, 2010


This is Crime Scraps post number 1,000!

Who do I think will win the 2010 CWA International Dagger?
The shortlist is a very strong and very varied collection of crime fiction from France, Iceland, Italy, South Africa, and Sweden [two books].
We can be sure of only one thing, that a male author will win for the first time, after three wins by Fred Vargas, and one by Dominique Manotti.

The six book shortlist:

Badfellas by Tonino Benacquista, translated from the French by Emily Read.

"So I have a 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.........."

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.

"But Erlendur's search to find some answers to her suicidein Maria's tragic past uncovers some harsh realities......"
"Gripping and haunting are probably much overused terms when it comes to reviewing books, but each applies to this absolutely brilliant book."

August Heat by Andrea Camilleri, translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

"Andrea Camilleri gives us another superb portion of all the charming idiosyncrasies that make this series so enjoyable."

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seeger.

"If you like intelligent fast paced thrillers with violent denouements, and lots of interesting characters, then I can recommend Deon Meyer.
I wonder if South African crime fiction is going to be the main stream media's next big discovery."

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.

"The four strands of the story come together in a satisfying climax and [minor spoiler alert] in a brilliant court room drama that had me shouting yes, yes, yes!"
Read the full review of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest here. [There are a number of Stieg Larsson, and Lisbeth Salander links at the review.]

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy.

"This brilliant novel is part ghost story, part detective story, and a really gripping thriller.
This is a beautifully constructed story with all the various threads and strands interwoven so cleverly, but as with most good crime fiction nothing is quite as it seems, and there are some unseen and unexpected twists at the end."

How do we choose a winner from six such enjoyable reads that are so different in style and content?

I will start by eliminating the two books, I consider to be the outsiders.

A violent black comedy which was extremely funny in places but tailed off towards the end. While Tonino Benacquista expanded the idea brilliantly this was still a story based on one slim joke, the "Sopranos" in rural France. It was not a complex book, and could not compare in this respect with the rest of the short list.

Thirteen Hours.
A very exciting tense thriller with a message about the future of South Africa and some sharp characterizations.
I rated this above Badfellas, but I think the International Dagger winner should be something really special, and apart from the freshness of the location, I did not consider Thirteen Hours to be "winning" material. This does not alter the fact that I will rush to read his next book.

[To be continued next week, when I will eliminate two more books, and decide on the final two contenders.]

Monday, June 28, 2010


Northern Ireland crime writer Gerard Brennan kindly sent me a hard copy of Requiems For the Departed, which he co-edited with Mike Stone. This is an anthology of seventeen short stories by some of the biggest names in Irish crime fiction inspired by myth and legend. [See my previous post]

Each time I have dipped into this collection I have come up with a gem. This time it was Red Hand of Ulster by Sam Millar which starts:

Disposing of early morning rubbish, Karl Kane was clad in nothing but a small pink bathrobe when he discovered the severed hand in the back alley of his Belfast office/apartment.

And only a Irish author would have the chuztpah to write:

"You want me to do you a favour by making sure that everything is kosher with Cohen."

When it has already been explained that Tev Cohen is a Jewish butcher.

"It says here that some Jewish scholars believe the O'Neill's were the actual descendants of the Biblical Jeremiah. According to the story, Jeremiah fled from Palestine and travelled via Egypt and Spain to Ireland."

Watching television reruns of the superb self deprecatory comedy "Father Ted" I could almost believe that the Irish were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


The White Gallows Professor Rob Kitchin's second foray into crime fiction writing has used part of my review of his debut The Rule Book inside the front cover including.......

"This was a very promising first crime novel."

Has this promise been sustained in The White Gallows? In my opinion yes, and The White Gallows is gripping entertainment.

Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy has several cases to deal with, including the death of Albert Koch, a very elderly German billionaire, who entered Ireland just after the Second World War. Koch's brother Frank had been shot down and interned for the duration, and Albert, a chemist, had come to join him. They both married Irish women and built successful businesses, in Albert's case making him one of the richest men in the country.
McEvoy tries to juggle the investigation of the murder of an anonymous youth, the search for a confidence trickster, advising on the suspected murder of a wife by her husband and girl friend, with his family life as a single parent to his daughter Gemma. He knows he does not spend enough time with Gemma, and now there is a memorial service to be arranged for his beloved wife Maggie in a week when all hell is breaking loose.
A very seriously injured colleague, a difficult superior officer, and Albert Koch's rich influential uncooperative family lead by his daughter Marion D'Arcy, add to his difficulties and his exhaustion.
When the investigation of Albert Koch's past raises more questions, and provides even more suspects, Colm McEvoy has to struggle to draw on his last reserves of strength.

This is a fine example of a police procedural in which an accurate picture of how an over stressed and underfunded force copes with an explosion of crime in Ireland's post Celtic Tiger economy. Rob Kitchin authors a story that features both a large cast of characters, and a frenetic pace as the investigation takes place over the course of one week. His writing has a clarity and honesty about the enormous stresses of police work, and the effect this has on normal family life.
Like most good crime fiction Rob Kitchin educates his readers as well as entertaining them as we learn details about Ireland's limited involvement in the Second World War, and more facts about the Holocaust.

This series is definitely going from strength to strength, and in Colm McEvoy Rob Kitchin has created an interesting and vulnerable protagonist. I definitely want to find out how his life, and that of his daughter Gemma turns out. Hopefully there will be a book three in the series.

'This is a photo of SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny...........He lead a crack SS division. Rescued Mussolini from an Italian mountain top..........
.....This photo. was taken in Portmanock in 1957.'

'Is that ...' McEvoy said trailing off, his brow furrowing.
'Charles Haughey,' Stringer confirmed, naming the future leader of the country. 'And in the background?'

The little elderly Irish ladies at Mrs C's church would not be at all surprised at this meeting between a former SS officer and a future Irish Taoiseach, as one word describes their opinion of the politicians in the country of their birth.

Read Rob Kitchin's excellent blog The View From The Blue House here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already qualified so these South American football supporters can relax before England's big game against Slovenia.


The question was:

Why did the first Desert Island castaway make a wartime British Prime Minister admire an Italian dictator?

Simple if you knew I was referring to the BBC radio program Desert Island Discs. The first "castaway" was radio comedian Vic Oliver, who was married from 1936-1945 to Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah.

There is an anecdote that when asked at a dinner party, attended by Oliver, whom he most admired Churchill replied:

"Mussolini" and explained " because he had the good sense to shoot his son- in- law [Count Ciano]."

Copies of August Heat and The Wings of the Sphinx will be sent off to winners in Morpeth, Northumberland and Crawley, Sussex in a few days. Well done!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I would not seem so much like a grumpy old man if booksellers did not do things that would annoy most sane people.
The book of course did not feature Kurt Wallander, or Kenneth Branagh, and a good part of the story wasn't even set in Sweden.

Today I found Tiverton's Waterstonea the paperback of Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room being sold with a sticker that trumpeted:

" The new Stieg Larsson: Simon Robertson Waterstone's crime buyer".

Mr Robertson surely a writer who has won:

The CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger 2009 and the Best Swedish Crime Fiction Debut 2007 [Basta svenska debut] for Echoes From The Dead,

The Nordic Glass Key 2009 and Best Swedish Crime Novel 2008 [Basta svenska kriminalroman] for The Darkest Room, a book which has also been shortlisted for this year's International Dagger can be marketed on his own merits.

Both books have been translated by Marlaine Delargy, who also translates Asa Larsson.

What do Stieg Larsson's books and Johan Theorin's books have in common, beyond the fact that the two authors are Swedes? Their protagonists perhaps?

Gerlof Davidsson and Lisbeth Salander? Now there is a partnership to dream about.

Monday, June 21, 2010


"You may be aware that all people with Down’s syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. Many eminent scientists believe chromosome 21 holds the key to a greater understanding and possible prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, certain types of cancers, heart disease and many more health problems that affect all of us. Such understanding of human genes is leading to realistic prospects of developing therapeutic approaches for these sometimes complicated health problems that are associated with the condition and that will, in future, lead to improvements in the health of the general population."

The above is a paragraph from a letter to be forwarded to UK MPs encouraging them to join an All Party Parliamentary Group dealing with Down's syndrome.

Crime fiction books can consider many subjects from the past, such as rise of the Nazis, or comment on many of the social issues of the present such as immigration. But I believe authors have a responsibility when dealing with sensitive subjects to write with absolute clarity. The book I finished a few days ago written by a charming very popular author, who is obviously a nice person [which is why I will not be naming the book] singularly failed to match up to those standards.
I did not enjoy the book, which turned out to be more fantasy, parable and allegory, than police procedural, but finished it because of certain comments about a doctor, who worked with Down's syndrome people in a community.
The words "treatment" and "cure" were used [inappropriate because Down's syndrome is not a disease] and we were told by one of the characters that the people were "damaged". We were then informed that because the doctor had ended his research, lived in this community, and written a book about it, that he was a "saint".
All very dramatic but it made that community sound like a leper colony.

The author probably had very good intentions, but they were lost somewhere along the line.
At the end of the book an old wild knackered horse, that was destined for the abattoir, was sent to the community.
In my mind, perhaps wrongly, the patronizing impression given was that while this community was a place of love it was also for the "damaged".

I might be oversensitive, but then a book that within a few pages discusses Albert Speer, Charlotte Bronte, and Bohuslav Martinu, is bound to short circuit my poor old brain.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I do hope that after the success of the Swedish Wallander programs someone at the BBC takes a look at some other Yellowbird series.

They include the first Detective Inspector Irene Huss series starring Angela Kovacs based on the books by former dentist Helene Tursten, with a second series planned, as well as a series featuring Liza Marklund's crime reporter Annika Bengtzon in development.

A chance for these female authors to get more publicity might help the main stream media finally get the notion that there is more to Scandinavian crime fiction than just Henning Mankell, and Stieg Larsson.
Irene Huss and Annika Bengtzon are the sort of capable female protagonists that might also convince our television program producers to come up with something new and different from their usual fare of middle aged morose male detectives with personal problems.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Update: This blog is now dormant. You can read all the old posts and a lot of new material at
Crime Scraps Review

The second series of Swedish Wallander is coming to an end, and despite missing the first few episodes, and thinking I would miss Stefan and Linda too much to enjoy watching it, I have become hooked.
The last two episodes Arvet [The Heritage] and Indrivaren [The Collector] were both of the highest standard. Great scripts and good acting with the smouldering relationship between Isabelle [Nina Zanjani] and Pontus [Sverrir Gudriason] bursting into flame made these episodes gripping television.
If poor lonely Kurt [Krister Henriksson], helped by the faithful dog Jussi, could connect with the attractive prosecutor ice princess Katerina [Lena Endre] the series could end on a high.

The Heritage is about the murder of the profligate husband of the wealthy owner of a cider making factory an event which leads to more killings, and some confusion.
This episode produced an interesting social commentary, and a line that I was surprised could come out of socialist Sweden, spoken to of all people Henning Mankell's detective. One of the laid off Swedish employees complains that the firm have taken on Poles "who will work for a snickers bar a week."

In The Collector a women is killed during a break in at her apartment. The victim is recognised by Isabelle, and subsequently a violent figure from Isabelle's past wants to re-establish their relationship. This episode highlights the love and loyalty the Ystad team have for each other, and it ends with Pontus and Isabelle walking together on the beach, and Kurt sadly sitting with his dog.

One more episode to come in this high quality series in which the acting of the supporting cast has been so accomplished, with Mats Bergman as Nyberg, Douglas Johansson as Martinsson, and Fredrik Gunnarsson as Svartman.

This was something sadly lacking in both the BBC Wallander series.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


There a number of very exciting events that will be held during the Agatha Christie Festival which will run from 12 September -19 September.

I might book up one of these expensive treats closer to the time depending on our financial situation. But.....
"I am a retired investor on a pension." Hyman Roth The Godfather part two.

But for now I am quite excited that we have booked up for "Mathew Prichard & John Curran in conversation" at Paignton Library & Information Centre.
What clinched it for us was the "tea and special birthday cake", as well as the usual book signing session, following the conversation.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I am struggling a little with the book I am reading at the moment, and a review will no doubt appear at some time in the future. Unless the second half is a much better read than the turgid first half my review might put me in a minority of one, because this author has won everything available in this galaxy, and is incredibly popular.
Let's hope it is a book of two halves, because it has been a real challenge to get this far without sending it to the charity shop.
Do other people ever find that they read a new author, who everyone else says is superb, and you just find them a bit boring?

Updating Amy's Scandinavian Crime Fiction Challenge, I have read five of the six books to complete the challenge.
And for Dorte's 2010 Global Challenge, which I am attempting at the medium level, I have read ten of the twelve books required [although I cheated and read two from the USA, because I had not read the instructions properly] and now need two Australasian books read to complete the challenge.

These challenges will have to await completion for a while.

When I finish the problem book I will move on to read something that I am sure will be more my scene, The White Gallows by Rob Kitchin, who blogs at The View from the Blue House; and then "Banks is Back" as I have Peter Robinson's latest book Bad Boy on my schedule, my review of that one will appear on Euro Crime in due course.


Just to remind you there is still time to enter the draw to win a copy of either August Heat or The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri.

The question to answer is:

Why did the first Desert Island Castaway make a wartime British Prime Minister admire an Italian dictator?

The deadline is next Monday 21 June, and answers should be sent to

Good luck.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Crime fiction can be used to put the case for all sorts of groups who don't usually get a good press.
Political and cultural points can be made within the general narrative, and as long as these are not overdone that can add a lot to the atmosphere of the story.

In his latest thriller Thirteen Hours Deon Meyer is obviously concerned about the future of the Afrikaner in the new 'rainbow nation' of South Africa. He gets his character Piet van der Lingen, an elderly historian with a son in Canada, in whose house Rachel takes shelter tell her about his writing.

'I'm writing a book. I promised myself it is my last. It's about the rebuilding of South Africa after the Boer War. I am writing it for my people, the Afrikaners, so they can see they have been through the same thing as the black people are going through now. They were also oppressed, they were also very poor, landless, beaten down. But through affirmative action they got up again............'
'But the book is also for our black people,' he said. 'The Afrikaners rose up again, an amazing achievement. Then their power corrupted them. The signs are there that the black government is going the same way. I am afraid they will make the same mistakes. It would be such a pity. We are a country of potential, of wonderful, good people who all want only one thing; a future for our children. Here. Not in Canada.'

This is the sort of social commentary and history that makes reading crime fiction so interesting.
Deon Meyer's writing suggests that the Afrikaners were influenced by a deep concern for the future welfare of their country, and this was the major factor that brought about the dismantling of the terrible apartheid system.
Others, perhaps less informed, might might claim it was the sporting boycott that prevented rugby and cricket teams playing against South Africa.

Friday, June 11, 2010


The program for the Agatha Christie Festival which runs from 12 -19 September can be read here.
The 15th September will be the 120th anniversary of the great crime writer's birth and so the festival will be a bit special this year.
I hope to be able to go to at least a couple of the events, but one thing I have learned from last year is that Torquay, and the surrounding area, gets very crowded during the festival, and you do need to book up for the events well in advance.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


One of the interesting techniques used by Ernesto Mallo in his novel Needle in a Haystack was the use of italics for dialogue with no indication of who is speaking, or even when one person stops talking and another person starts.
I thought it added considerably to the tension and the sense of being involved in the story.

Aren't you interested in knowing how he died? Of course I am....It's just that I'm so overcome, everything has been so sudden......Of course. Tell me, you're his only heir, is that correct? If there is anything to inherit then I suppose I am.


You wouldn't happen to be a lefty, would you? A lefty? No, I try to abide by rights in everything I do. That sort of sarcasm is going to be your downfall one day. I want an answer by tomorrow. Tell Jorge and I'll contact you. All right, anything else? You can go . Thanks, good day.

There are quite a few conversations in which this is done, and it is nice to find a writer trying something a bit different for once.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Rebecca Cantrell's first novel A Trace of Smoke, which featured Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel, won great reviews as well as the Bruce Alexander Memorial Award for best historical mystery.

My interview with Rebecca: part one, part two, part three, part four.

Hannah Vogel's next adventure A Night of Long Knives is set in the summer of 1934 three years after the events related in A Trace of Smoke.

Hannah is asked to write about a zeppelin journey from South America to Switzerland. She had vowed never to set foot in Germany as long as the Nazis were in power, but Ernst Rohm, leader of the SA [Brownshirts], her dead brother's former lover, has the zeppelin diverted.
Hannah and Anton are kidnapped and separated by Rohm's agents. He claims Anton, Hannah's foster son, is his child and wants to use him and a bogus forced marriage to Hannah to protect himself from paragraph 175 of the German penal code.
Rohm's open homosexuality is being used by his enemies in an attempt to destroy his considerable power.
But before the marriage can take place Rohm, suspected by Hitler of high treason, and thousands of his brownshirt storm troopers, are murdered in the purge known as the Night of the Long Knives.
Hannah evades capture and travels to Berlin in a desperate quest to find Anton before the SS eliminate him, because of his supposed connection with Rohm.

Rebecca Cantrell has written another exciting thriller and with Hannah Vogel's sometimes frenetic first person narrative she gives the reader a feeling of what it must have been like to be in Germany during those terrible years. She has cleverly blended her fictional story in with real life events and real life characters, such as British journalist Sefton Delmer, while cleverly imparting snippets of information that add to the atmosphere.

"Do you know where that church is?"
Only a Bavarian would ask that question. The neo-Gothic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was a Berlin landmark near the zoo, home to weddings of the rich and famous, including Marlene Dietrich.

A Night of Long Knives might be just considered just another adventure story, albeit with a very attractive heroine, but perhaps we should see beyond the simple thriller to some of the subject matter.
Political figures still hide their sexuality, even in our modern liberal society, and in recent years dictators still eliminate their former associates, relatives and closest friends.

In June 1934 during the Night of the Long Knives Hitler, Goering, Himmler and the SS had murdered Ernst Rohm, Hitler's oldest friend, Gregor Strasser, father of Hitler's godchildren, Kurt von Schleicher, former Chancellor of Germany, and his wife, and numerous other high ranking officials including associates of Franz von Papen, Hitler's vice-Chancellor.

Old scores, and perceived slights, were settled in an orgy of blood letting, and yet the Olympic Games were allowed to take place in Berlin a mere two years later.

I am looking forward to the next installment of the adventures of Hannah, which will be set in 1936 during those Berlin Olympics.

Monday, June 07, 2010


This week I took part in the 45th Book Blog Carnival hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, along with antipodean crime fiction bloggers the hostess Kerrie, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, and Craig at Crime Watch.


Those very nice people at Pan Macmillan have sent me a copy of August Heat by Andrea Camilleri and also a copy of The Wings of the Sphinx, his latest book to be translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli.
August Heat will be published in paperback by Picador on 18 June at £7.99.
The Wings of the Sphinx will be published in hardback by Mantle on 18 June at £14.99.

My regular readers [there must be some] will know that I have already read, and reviewed both these books.
Therefore I would like to pass them on to a worthy home.

All you have to do to win one of these books is to answer a simple question.

Why did the first Desert Island Castaway make a wartime British Prime Minister admire an Italian dictator?

Answers to by midnight BST Monday 21 June 2010.
Two winners will be drawn so please specify which book you would prefer.

Saturday, June 05, 2010


It seems that local knowledge of the back roads helped Derrick Bird, the taxi driver who killed twelve people in Cumbria, avoid the armed police who were trailing him.

This was brought home to us yesterday when we took a minor road, that we traveled many times when we lived in the countryside north of Exeter.
Most locals would know this route, but if police were allocated from other areas they might not be familiar with this minor road.

Friday, June 04, 2010


'I'm in the kitchen.' The man's voice directly ahead of her was soothing, but she felt frightened anyway.
Books. So like her parents' house. She must be safe with a book person.

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers, is the sixth and last book I have read from the CWA International Dagger shortlist.

Rachel Anderson, a young American backpacker, is running for her life in the morning rising sun of Cape Town. The people chasing her have cut the throat of her friend, Erin, and now not being able to trust the police she runs looking for some sanctuary and rest.

Meanwhile Adam Barnard, a record company owner, has been murdered. His wife Alexandra was once a sensual blonde singer, now she is an alcoholic unable to remember what happened the previous day.

A diverse group of South African cops will investigate these crimes each with their own problems and personalities.

Recovering alcoholic Benny Griessel, an Afrikaaner, has been designated a mentor to the other "rainbow nation" police operatives on these investigations. Separated from his wife, and isolated from his children, because of his drinking he is hoping to return to the family home.

Inspector Fransman Dekker, a very handsome coloured man, has a massive and possibly justified chip on his shoulder about his situation.

'You understand fokkol, I'm telling you. You were either Baas or Klass, we were fokkol, always we weren't white enough then, we're not black enough now, it never ends, stuck in the fucking middle of the colour palette.'

Inspector Vusi Ndabeni a quiet, shy, conscientious Xhosa policeman is willing to learn from his mentor Benny, and not only about police work.

Griessel turned. Vusi came up to him. 'I just wanted to ask you....I.....uh...'
'Ask me, Vusi.'
'The pathologist...She...Do you think......Would a coloured doctor go out with a darkie cop?'

Perhaps the most interesting of the quartet is the very likeable Zulu woman Inspector Mbali Kaleni.

'You can't sit there and eat,' she said with more astonishment than authority.
Mbali Kaleni lifted a chicken drumstick out of the packet. 'I can,' she said, and took a bite.

We are thrust into the frenetic action of this exciting thriller, and Deon Meyer uses the technique of rapidly moving the reader from one perspective to another, which makes you feel part of the chase and the investigation. He also imparts a lot of information about the recording industry, and the racial mixture that is modern South Africa.
If you like intelligent fast paced thrillers with violent denouements and lots of interesting characters then I can recommend Deon Meyer. This is the second of Deon Meyer's books I have read, Blood Safari being the first, and I have enjoyed both immensely.
I wonder if South African crime fiction is going to be the main stream media's next big discovery.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Buenos Aires, under the military dictatorship in the 1970s.

Superintendent Lascano [aka Perro The Dog] is sent to investigate a double murder and finds three bodies. Bodies one and two are a boy and a girl both dressed in jeans and polo necks their features smashed by several bullets. The custom is that each member of the Juntas death squads fire into the victim to ensure their mutual responsibility. But body three is a tall man of about sixty in a suit and tie, with one bullet wound in his stomach.
While on a raid Lascano finds Eva, a young dissident hiding from the Army, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife Marisa, who tragically died in a car accident. Lascano had been deeply depressed by this event, and had only survived his loss with help from his friend Fuseli, the forensic pathologist.
Lascano keeps Eva in his apartment and carries on with his work, as they begin to cook together and fall in love.
He and Fuseli are able to identify body three as Elias Biterman, a moneylender and Auschwitz survivor turned hard and bitter by his past life, and also produce evidence that he was not a victim of the death squads.
Lascano digs deeper into Biterman's business transactions, and we learn about his wartime experiences. Moving back in time we are introduced to Biterman's younger brother Horacio, a playboy born in Argentina, and therefore spared the traumas that have toughened Elias.

Unfortunately Horacio has introduced his brother to his decadent friend Amancio.

He was an awful student guided by an indifferent father, from whom Amancio inherited the sense of life already accounted for, nails growing long like those of a Chinese mandarin. Work was not meant for the likes of them................

The sacrifice, the massacre of one thousand Indians per day, wasn't considered excessive in return for securing the family's wealth for three or four generations.

But Amancio's expensive lifestyle, and his beautiful wife Lara, have reduced him to the verge of bankruptcy.

......Lara is already putting her black dress on, a garment which set him back, the price of five Hereford cows when he bought it for her in Paris.

When Elias Biterman puts pressure on Amancio to clear his debt to him, Amancio took advice from Horacio, and then asked for help from a friend, Major Giribaldi.

Needle in a Haystack was written by Ernesto Mallo, and translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar. Mallo as well as being a essayist, newspaper columnist, screenwriter and playwright is a former anti-junta activist, who was pursued by the dictatorship.

I don't think my plot synopsis can do justice to all the different sub-plots and great characters, or to the atmosphere of both decadence and fear that Mallo creates. This book is a lesson for those authors who think you need to write 600 pages to produce a complex book. One hundred and ninety pages of great narrative, and cleverly manufactured dialogue, have produced a novel that is a mini social history of a rotten to the core Argentina, as well as being a very tense thriller.
How nice to live in a country where you don't have to worry about the knock on the door in the middle of the night. Well not yet anyway.

With one simple call to his friend Jorge, Giribaldi finds out that the policeman sticking his nose into the Biterman affair is not called Lezama but Lascano.

For once I entirely agree with the cover blurbs about a book especially this one:

'This man knows. He knows about guns, knows about women, knows about dead bodies...But above all he knows how to narrate.'
Ana Maria Shua, author of El Peso de la Tentacion

This is the second book I have read for the South American leg of Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge.


Yesterday I was able to sit out and enjoy reading in the fresh air.
Unfortunately I had left my hardback Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer upstairs so I could nag my dedicated womenfolk to fetch it for me, or alternatively guard me on a stair climbing expedition. But for once giving them a rest [they have looked after me so well] I decided to pick up a short paperback to read, and before I knew it I was fifty pages in and completely hooked.
I went on to finish it later on that evening.
The book was Needle in a Haystack [La aguya en el pajar] by Ernesto Mallo, and this novel, set in Argentina under the military dictatorship, has got to be a contender for next year's International Dagger, if it is eligible.
I will post a short review of the book later, but here is a snippet from this superb book to whet your appetite.

The first lesson is this: to cook well you have to cook with pleasure, otherwise the food turns out bad. My grandma used to say you had to cook with love. Well, it's the same thing, and cooking and loving have several things in common, not least their unpleasant side. Meaning? Tears. And so, chopping the onion is your job.

By the way as you can see from the photograph my horribly white leg is healing well, although the phrase 'keyhole surgery' obviously did not apply in my case.