Friday, July 30, 2010


Thanks to Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare for pointing out that this week is the 75th anniversary of Penguin bringing out the first modern paperback.

I pleasantly surprised to read about the crime fiction connection and the fact that the idea for Penguin paperbacks evolved in my home town.

"Penguin paperbacks were the brainchild of Allen Lane, then a director of The Bodley Head. After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, he found himself on a platform at Exeter station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London, but discovered only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels."

When this was remedied and the first Penguin paperbacks were published in the summer of 1935 they were colour coded, orange for fiction, blue for biography, and the familiar green for crime fiction; and they cost sixpence!
I must pop down to the station, and see what there is for sale there now for sixpence, 75 years later.


Leah Giarratano's Vodka Doesn't Freeze was the 34th crime fiction novel I read this year.

Sydney, New South Wales. David Carter, a paedophile is battered to death while sneaking views and taking photos of children at a local swimming and paddling pool.
Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson suffered abuse as a child twenty years earlier and still exhibits symptoms such as a punishing food and exercise regime, obsessive cleaning, and a fear of men. Her relationship with her partner Scott Hutchinson is therefore purely platonic, because although there is a mutual attraction Jill's past traumas are too vivid for her to explore this attraction further.
She is also not popular with many of her sexist colleagues having sent down a drug dealing biker gang one of whose member's brother is a fellow officer.
Jill and her partner Scotty investigate the Carter murder, and when several other men known to the police as sex offenders are also brutally murdered it seems a serial killer is at large.
It emerges that the murdered men were treated by the same psychotherapist Dr Mercy Merris, a woman who seems to be loosing control under the extreme stress of her difficult job.
The men may all be linked in a club for paedophiles run by the wealthy Alejandro Sebastian, with the assistance of a brutal thug Jamaal Mahmoud.

'As you know,' she continued, we have evidence that all of the deceased were involved in paedophilia, and were possibly part of an organised network of pederasts.'

Vodka Doesn't Freeze was the debut novel of Dr Leah Giarratano, who is a psychologist, and an expert in psychological trauma, sex offences, and psychopathology.
She has used her professional knowledge and experience to produce a book that definitely does not pull any punches. Her concern to inform us about child abuse, a subject she obviously cares very deeply about, means that the readers are subjected to a series of harrowing encounters with some very horrible characters.
The moral question is raised whether, or not, the killer should be found, or should he, or she, be allowed to go on eliminating the paedophiles.
I must admit I found this a difficult book to read, and I wished I believed that longer prison sentences with more psychological treatment and rehabilitation was the answer to these people's problems. Should they be locked up forever.......?

I did change my mind however about the book which when I started to read I thought was simply a sensationalist book about disgusting characters. Once I had got into the story I was still disgusted by the behaviour of the villains, but I understood that the author was trying to warn and inform the readers about a terrible world that we know exists, but is so alien to most normal people that we don't want to even think about it.

Jill Jackson despite her fitness and all her martial arts skills still feels vulnerable, something most men never feel until they break a leg. It is sometimes good to be taken out of your comfort zone, and Leah Giarratano certainly achieved that.
While I can't say I "enjoyed" reading Vodka Doesn't Freeze, it was thought provoking and it did leave me feeling that if asked to collect my granddaughter from the cinema, or a friend's house, I would never ever be late.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


11] Crime Fiction in Translation

Crime takes place all over the world, and there's excellent crime fiction in many different languages. That's what makes this particular category such a difficult one.
One book that I might suggest as an excellent example of translated crime fiction is Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers, the first of his Kurt Wallander series.
In this novel, Wallander is faced with solving the brutal murders of Johannes Lovrgren and his wife, Maria. The murders themselves are horrible enough, but things get worse when word leaks out about Maria's dying word:"foreigners."
Immediately, it's assumed that the Lovgrens were murdered by foreigners, and that stirs up all sorts of racial and ethnic hatred. Now, Wallander has to deal with the investigation and the growing outcry about it.
He's also coping with a personal life that seems to be in a tailspin.

12] Wild Card

I'm very glad there's a "Wild Card" category, because crime fiction doesn't always fit neatly into an obvious category. My suggestion for this category is Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
This novel tells the story of Mma. Precious Ramotswe, a Botswana woman who uses money she's earned from the sale of her father's cattle to open a detective agency. Soon after the agency opens, Mma. Ramotswe begins to investigate several cases, including tracking down a husband who's missing, catching a con man and looking for a young boy who's disappeared. She's assisted in her cases by Mma. Grace Makutsi, who's hired at first to be the agency's secretary, but soon shows that she is capable of much more.
Mma Ramotswe is a fascinating sleuth, and the series of novels that follows this one includes delightful characters, a strong sense of place and interesting cases.

So there you have it: twelve books that I would recommend for the person who's interested in crime fiction. You'll notice I didn't say, "my twelve favorite books", or "the best examples in each category." That's because there's so much wonderful crime fiction out there that I could probably complete the Dartmoor Dozen several times. Happy Reading!

Many thanks Margot for a wonderful selection of books. It has been a great pleasure hosting you here at Crime Scraps, and sharing some of your encyclopedic knowledge and obvious love of the genre.
Margot's twelve books were:

The Moonstone: Wilkie Collins
A Study in Scarlet: Arthur Conan Doyle
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Agatha Christie
The Long Goodbye: Raymond Chandler
The Motive on Record: Dell Shannon
The Daughters of Cain: Colin Dexter
13 Steps: Ruth Rendell
Skinny Dip: Carl Hiassen
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton: Shona MacLean
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: John le Carre
Faceless Killers: Henning Mankell
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency: Alexander McCall Smith

Margot's wonderful blog is at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


7] Psychological Suspense

Novels of psychological suspense can be truly unforgettable. One of the novels that I suggest as an example of this kind of of novel is Ruth Rendell's 13 Steps Down.
That's the story of Mix Cellini, who works as an exercise equipment repairman. Cellini's got a host of fears and obsessions, including the fear of the number 13, the number of steps he takes in the home of Gwendolyn Chawcer.
Chawcer is just as mentally unbalanced, in her way, as her tenant is, chiefly because of growing up in a home with a tyrannical father who sabotaged any chance she had art a productive adult life. There is plenty of suspense as Cellini and Chawcer form an uneasy business relationship.
There is even more when Cellini becomes obsessed with the beautiful model Merissa Nash, whom he meets when he goes to her home on a repair job. Then Cellini becomes obsessed with the life of Dr Richard Christie, a notorious serial killer. The tension mounts in this novel as Cellini's obsessions with Merissa Nash and Richard Christie grow more and more all-consuming, with tragic circumstances.

8] Caper and Comic Crime Fiction

Not all crime fiction is dark, of course. Some very fine crime fiction is comic, or focuses on outrageous capers. There are lots of very fine authors to choose from, too, in this sub genre. One whose work I might suggest is Carl Hiassen.
His Skinny Dip tells the story of Chaz Perrone, a marine scientist who's found a way to "doctor" water samples so that agribusiness tycoon Red Hammernut can continue illegally dumping waste into the water of Florida's Everglades. When his wife, Joey, finds out, Chaz decides he's going to kill her, and takes her on a cruise that he claims is an anniversary present. While they're on the cruise, he throws her overboard.
The only problem for Chaz is, she doesn't die. Instead, Joey Perrone works with her rescuer, Mick Stranahan, to make Chaz' life miserable. The result is action-packed-and funny.

9] Historical Crime Fiction

There 's a wide variety of historical crime fiction available, from several different eras. The grande dame of historical crime fiction is probably Ellis Peters, author of the Cadfael series. My suggestion for this category, though, especially for those getting acquainted with historical crime fiction, is Shona MacLean's The Redemption of Alexander Seaton.
The novel takes place in 17th Century Scotland, and is the story of the poisoning murder of Patrick Davidson, the local apothecary's apprentice. His body is found one morning in the schoolroom of disgraced minister Alexander Seaton. Seaton, who's been relegated to the position of under master at the grammar school, finds out that his friend Charles Thom has been accused of the crime, and sets out to clear his friend's name. MacLean gives the reader a clear portrait of the Scotland of that era, and shares many of the religious, political and social questions of the day. Yet, the story is centered on the murder and on Seaton's evolution as he solves it.
The mystery is as much an historical "snapshot" as it is a crime fiction novel, and is quite engaging.

10] The Thriller

There are all sorts of thrillers, too, from spy thrillers to courtroom dramas and more. My suggestion for this category is what I consider one of the classics in the sub genre: John le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
John le Carre is a master of the spy thriller, and this particular novel is a fine example of his work.
Alec Leamas is a member of British Intelligence who's stationed in East Berlin during the Cold War. He's grown weary of the "spy game", and after several of the spies he supervises are killed during his "watch", Leamas tries to retire. Instead, he's called back to London. There he's given one last, dangerous mission: to kill Hnas Dieter Mundt, who's responsible for the killings of Leamas' agents. Reluctantly, Leamas agrees and returns to the job, only to find that he's soon caught up in a very deadly game. In a classic le Carre style, no-one can be trusted, and nothing really is as it seems.

[To be continued. The conclusion of Margot's Dartmoor Dozen will be posted tomorrow.]

Monday, July 26, 2010


Thanks Norman, for inviting me to share my contributions to your Dartmoor Dozen Challenge. There is so much excellent crime fiction out there, and has been for such a long time, that it'll be hard to confine myself to just one or two examples, but here goes:

1] The Origins

Many people argue that Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone was the first full-length detective novel. I recommend it not just because of its place in the history of crime fiction, but also because of its social commentary and its picture of life in the mid-19th Century. It's also an interesting story with lots of twists and turns.

2] The Age of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous of all fictional characters. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote fifty-six Holmes stories and four novels, and all of them deserve recognition. If one's going to read Holmes, I recommend the book in which he is introduced, A Study in Scarlet. That book, more than other books and stories, tells us about Holmes the person.

But I also recommend G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. Admittedly, it's in part because I enjoy mysteries where the sleuth in intuitive, and Father Brown certainly is. Father Brown tries to think the way the murderer thinks, and that makes for interesting reading.

3] The Golden Age

There are so many fine writers and books from this period of time, and some of my very favorite authors wrote at this time. However, I would say that one of the finest examples of Golden Age crime fiction is Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. This novel features Hercule Poirot at his most intuitive. It's also got interesting characterization and an engaging plot.
Thsi novel also has many of the elements thta really set Christie's work apart: unexpected twists, characters who are hiding things, and the English village setting that's the basis for several of the Christie novels. It also has one of the most famous denouements in crime fiction history.

4] Hardboiled

The hardboiled novel takes a very different approach to crime fiction. Unlike a lot of Golden age crime fiction, the hardboiled novel looks at the seamier side of life, and often features a "lone wolf" sleuth. There are several hardboiled detective novels I could recommend, but one of the quintessential hardboiled novels is Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. His Philip Marlowe is the role model for many later detectives who maintain their principles and fight for justice, very often risking a lot of danger in doing so.
In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe uncovers the connection between two cases he's working on and unravels several tissues of lies in the process. The story's quite atmospheric, too, which is another feature of the hardboiled novel.

5] The Police Procedural

There are so many good examples of the police procedural, where one gets to see what happens at a police station. One series I've liked is the Luis Mendoza series by Dell Shannon [the pen name of Elizabeth Linington]. For example The Motive on Record features Mendoza and his Los Angeles police team investigation a strange set of deaths in a church, a child molester, a murdered mail carrier and some theater robberies, among other cases. Besides being a police series, the Mendoza series is also a fascinating look at the ethnic and cultural kaleidoscope that is Los Angeles.

6] Detectives [police, forensic, private]

There are myriad detectives from which I could choose, because so many crime fiction novels fall into this category, so this choice is not an easy one. That said, I'd like to suggest Colin Dexter's The Daughters of Cain. Dexter's Inspector Morse is a police detective, and so these books could be included as police procedurals. Very often though, Morse goes his own way and isn't much of what you'd call a "team player". He's a unique character and a list of recommended crime fiction reading would be less without him.
In The Daughter's of Cain, Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of a retired Oxford don Dr Felix McClure. As they follow the clues, get to know the suspects, and uncover another murder, too, we see Morse at his irascible best. We also get to see false leads, fascinating characters and an interesting, intricate intellectual puzzle.

[To be continued]

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Last year one of the most popular features on Crime Scraps was the Dartmoor Dozen. Readers were asked to compile a list of crime fiction books in the nominated categories, for someone who had never read crime fiction, and might be snowed in on Dartmoor.
The idea caught on and lists of books that could well be used as a university introduction course to the genre were produced by some very knowledgeable bloggers.

My own Dartmoor Dozen choices are here: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, and part seven.

I was even able to cajole Duchess Donna Moore, crime writer and raconteur, and a lady with an incredible knowledge of crime fiction as well as Glasgow bus services to guest blog for me. This was in the days before she had her own fantastic blog featuring Scottish crime fiction at Big Beat From Badsville.

Donna's Dartmoor Dozen part one and part two.

Next week I have another real treat for you as I have persuaded another attractive talented crime writer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre to guest blog and give us her version of the Dartmoor Dozen.
Margot Kinberg has a wonderful blog at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, that convinces me that she knows more about Agatha Christie than Mathew Prichard. [Agatha Christie's grandson]
So come back on Monday for Margot's Dartmoor Dozen.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I recently completed the 2010 Scandinavian Reading Challenge hosted by Amy at the Black Sheep Dances.

I read and reviewed the following six books:

These books are written by some powerhouse Scandinavian writers, who have won numerous awards, and sold millions of books, but believe it or not none of them is named Stieg.
Of course his translator is there among a formidable and talented group, who have allowed us mono-linguists to enjoy these fantastic novels.
I think there is a nice balance three men, three women, two Norwegians, three Swedes and an Icelander.
But there is the snag.

Our Danish expert Dorte of DJS Krimiblog informs me that Iceland may be Nordic, but it is not Scandinavian.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines Scandinavian as relating to Scandinavia, its people, or its languages.
Scandinavia is defined as a large peninsula occupied by Norway and Sweden, or a cultural region consisting of the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and sometimes also of Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands.

As a man who has never refused a Danish pastry I will, with great pleasure, accept that Dorte is correct and complete a Scandinavian Plus extra challenge by reading a Danish, and also a Finnish book.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I have decided that I am a pedant, and someone who can't enjoy a film or book if even a minor fact is just plain wrong.
We had an electricity power cut last night which seemed strangely appropriate as I had finished watching the film In The Electric Mist earlier in the day.
This film starring Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux was based on the book In the Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. I read the book too many years ago to compare it with a film, that I enjoyed up to the point where my pedantic adherence to facts overtook my interest in the story.
What annoyed me was that in the film a ghostly General John Bell Hood appeared to Robicheaux giving fatherly advice. We even at the end of the film get taken and shown Hood's real grave at the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

Why was John Bell Hood played by a grandfatherly 69 year old actor Levon Helm, when the real John Bell Hood was only 34 when the Civil War ended in 1865?

Saturday, July 17, 2010


This time next week we will know which book the judges picked as the winner of the 2010 CWA International Dagger.

And by a nose the winner is [opening the envelope very slowly] The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy.

As the winter skies darken all the strands of the story will come together on the night of a terrible blizzard, and when tradition claims the dead gather to celebrate Christmas.

The Darkest Room has already won 2008 Best Swedish Crime Novel, and the 2009 Nordic Glass Key.
Perhaps because Johan Theorin is a fantastic story teller, and this book is a brilliantly constructed combination of part ghost story, part detective story and thriller.
Interesting human protagonists, such as the shrewd octogenerian Gerlof Davidsson, play a large part, but the real stars of this story are the island of Oland, its folklore, and Eel Point, a house which seems cursed with bad luck.
And then there is the nice twist in the tail that clinches it for me over the more predictable story and ending of Hypothermia.

On this occasion the judges have an extremely difficult task faced with such a strong shortlist, but without doubt I would choose The Darkest Room, reviewed here at Crime Scraps, and at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Egon Wallin is secretly planning to leave his wife Monika. After twenty-five years as an art dealer on Gotland he has exchanged contracts for the sale of Visby's foremost gallery, and is ready to start a new life in Stockholm. His last show will be the work of a young Lithuanian artist, Mattis Kalvalis, still unknown in Sweden.
Later that night after a very successful show and a fancy dinner at the Donners Brunn restaurant in central Visby, Egon Wallin leaves his sleeping wife for a secret rendezvous.
The next morning his body is found hanging from the portcullis of the medieval Dalman Gate.

The Killer's Art is the fourth book in Mari Jungstedt's Inspector Knutas series set on the island of Gotland. The four books have been translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally.
This series is improving as it goes along and the reason is that it relies more on the reader's interest in the characters than the plot, which in this book is rather transparent.
The author deals as sensitively and honestly as possible with a very difficult subject, at the same time as imparting a lot of interesting information about Swedish artists, and their patrons in the early part of the last century.
There are moving descriptions of a painting by the post impressionist Nils von Dardel "The Dying Dandy" which becomes part of the investigation.

{This reminded me that we have a lovely children's book entitled Our Home [1899] with the paintings of a slightly earlier and very different Swedish painter Carl Larsson [mentioned in the book] which we bought in a freezing cold Stockholm many years ago.}

Mari Jungstedt writes in shortish chapters, and changes the perspective frequently and this technique adds to the gathering tension as Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and his team struggle to work out the relationships between suspects in a situation where everyone seems to have a secret life.

A vital member of the investigative team is the enigmatic, and very private, Detective Inspector Karin Jacobsson, who Knutas rather fancies, even though he is happily married and still in love with his red haired Danish wife, Lina.

She's really sweet, he thought as he observed her hesitation.

The author hints but does not confirm at some future emotional entanglement that will definitely not involve Karin and Anders.
The other interesting team member is Martin Kihlgard, who has been sent from the NCP in Stockholm. He is a large clownish man, constantly eating, and annoying Knutas by calling him "Knutie" and charming everyone with his sense of fun, but beneath this exterior he is a shrewd investigator.

The other major participant in Knutas series, the television reporter Johan Berg, "assists" the police investigate serious crimes on Gotland, while carrying on a passionate and tempestuous affair with Emma Winarve. Emma is now divorced from Olle, and she and Johan have a baby daughter as well as Olle's two older children to look after.
This relationship is one of the most enjoyable sub-plots in the books. I have always thought that Johan is a bit selfish and immature, and even become on occasions quite annoyed at his behaviour. But this is a tribute to the quality of the writing which draws you into the lives of the characters.

Emma responded with a low growl in her throat, and all of a sudden wrapped her legs tightly around him. They made love on the sofa, then leaning against the table, against the windowsill, and finally on the floor. Afterwards, as he lay with her head resting on his arm, he found himself looking up at the underside of the coffee table, which was only a few inches from his sweat-covered forehead.
He smiled as he kissed her cheek.
'I'll take that as a yes.'

The police work in The Killer's Art may be a little slapdash but the characters, the background information, and the setting on the island of Gotland kept my interest.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


What are the factors we use in deciding if we like a book? Or even deciding on a winner from a short list of fine books?
There are certain authors with whom I have developed an empathy, and they could almost write a shopping list and I would find it interesting. But that gut reaction when analysed just means that writer has skillfully included most of the necessary ingredients without a lot of fuss.
For example Andrea Camilleri can include a character's back story in half a paragraph, or sum up someone in a couple of evocative sentences.

Decked out in Armani, top-of-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. [The Wings of the Sphinx]

I would judge a book on the following factors.

1] Characters-
Are the characters interesting, and does the reader want to find out what happens to them? Do we get enough detail about them?
The success of Hercule Poirot is perhaps based on the fact that we are given so much information about his appearance and his habits. The only other crime fiction character I can think of whose physical appearance is described in such great detail is Lisbeth Salander.

2] Plot-
Writers should be storytellers, not wordsmiths aiming for effect.
Telling a good story should take precedence over trying to create beautiful passages of prose. I have never forgotten the book claiming to be literary crime fiction that contained a pretentious one hundred and ninety one word sentence. A clever believable plot with a few red herrings, and some twists and turns, is the basis of any crime fiction book, but even the most experienced writers forget this on occasions.

3] Style, and Translation-
I can appreciate the difference between James Paterson and John le Carre, and Dan Brown and Graham Greene, and that is about my limit when it comes to literary style. But I did comprehend reading Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel that this was something special and a beautifully written novel, so perhaps I am not that illiterate.
A novel should read smoothly in English, or in a translation into English. When the translator is blamed for a "clunky" translation I wonder if the critic has read the book in the original language. The "clunkiness" might be the original writing, or the efforts of editors, and nothing to do with the translator.

4] Accuracy-
Authors should stick to subjects in which they have some expertise, or at least have researched thoroughly. A fellow blogger told me that she had stopped reading a book after a character walked from Sloane Square to Knightsbridge, and managed to cross the Thames on the way.
Getting the facts right is an absolute essential.
For example Agatha Christie worked as a nurse in Torbay Hospital during the Great War, later moving to the dispensary where she acquired her knowledge of poisons used with such skill in her novels.

5] Humour-
In real life people use humour to relieve the tension in difficult situations, and those authors who replicate this in their books are among my favourites.

6] Education-
I like to be given interesting information, but not when this is merely extraneous padding in order to get to the required number of pages. The material should be relevant to the plot, and ideally vital to creating an evocative atmosphere.

I quite like politics in crime fiction, but then:

"My idea of an agreable person is a person who agrees with me." Benjamin Disraeli

Political diatribes should be done with a light hand, and not blasted at the reader on every page.

On the other hand there are certain subjects that I find difficult.
These are extreme violence to women and children, and glorification of criminals and bullies. But if it is absolutely essential to the plot then I can accept a minimum amount. For instance in Peter Robinson's excellent new thriller Bad Boy there is a brief description of violence towards a woman that I rushed past, but still highly rated the book.

In fact crime fiction novels are no different from any other fiction they should have a good story to tell, and be sprinkled with interesting characters.

The judges for the CWA International Dagger will make their decision on 23 July.
I will pick my winner later this week, but as one distinguished figure in crime fiction commented in view of past events it might be sensible to have a bet on "the French guy".

Monday, July 12, 2010


Now that the "Swedish Wallander series two" is over I am tempted to try some of the Scandinavian crime series DVD sets that are available with English sub-titles. It is one of the very clever marketing ploys on the Amazon website that if you feed in a search for example an Irene Huss DVD a selection of Scandinavian temptations appears the next time you visit the site.
Maybe BBC 4 will expand their present tentative exploration of crime series from Europe [Spiral, Wallander, two Montalbano episodes] and regularly schedule sub-titled crime fiction series throughout the year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A small clue as to which team I am supporting in the upcoming World Cup Final.

UPDATE: Spain 1 Netherlands 0

Viva Espana. But how sad that the tournament should end with such a violent game.


One story dominated the news this week.
Had King Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson returned to invade Northumberland?
Had Al Qaeda activated a cell of jihadists in the North East?
Had the Spanish Armada landed and were conquistadors advancing on Rothbury?

I was confused after all hundreds of armed officers from eight police forces, forty elite firearms officers from the Metropolitan Police, twenty armoured cars sent over on the night ferry from Northern Ireland, and a RAF Tornado with imaging equipment were involved.

Then I realised that all this was for one sad loser, Raoul Moat, seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. Of course the main stream media played a major part in making this desperate man some kind of folk hero. Anyone who thinks he was should follow this link to a photo of PC David Rathband possibly blinded by Moat, and remember he murdered Chris Brown.
When both red top and broad sheet newspapers wallow in this story I am saddened at the developments in our society, and deliberately did not buy a newspaper today.
"Gazza, I Blame the Police" Daily Star
"I have no dad and nobody cares about me" Moat's Final Lament. Sunday Times

You do not need to be a forensic psychologist to guess that Moat suffered from some sort of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and would have enjoyed his notoriety.
Regretfully there is now a strong possibility we will get people copying Moat, and Bird [the Cumbrian taxi driver, who murdered twelve people last month].
I would like to suggest that newspapers and television spend a bit more time telling the story of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan, and people like PC David Rathband, who put their lives on the line for us every day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The world wide appeal of crime fiction is astounding.

I have been monitoring arrivals at Crime Scraps for one month, and the countries my visitors come from are shown on the map above.
You are all very welcome, and I shall continue to note down any arrivals from new countries.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I will think about great books today to take my mind off the terrible events of 7 July 2005, but I have already shed a tear and remembered the 52 victims.

This week I will eliminate two more books from my final four.

August Heat. [by Andrea Camilleri translator Stephen Sartarelli]

Although I love the Inspector Montalbano books of Andrea Camilleri I suspect they may be an acquired taste. August Heat is the tenth book in the series, and unless you have read the previous nine growing up with the characters I don't expect the reader will find the quirkiness as enjoyable as I do. My article on the Picador website Appreciating Camilleri tries to explain my fondness for these books.
August Heat is a pleasant summer read, but I have to admit it lacks both the plot and depth of the other contenders.
I must say it took a lot of willpower to eliminate a book with the line:
"Mullet in onions:served cold a delight."

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest. [by Stieg Larsson translator Reg Keeland]

I am eliminating from contention the very hot favourite [see Karen's polls at Eurocrime] despite the fact that I thought it was a very exciting thriller with a satisfying ending. Hornets' Nest was infinitely superior to the first book in the trilogy because Stieg Larsson had developed from a journalist to a storyteller. In another year with a weaker short list I would regard it as certain winner, but the CWA International Dagger should be all about which is the "best" book that year, not about the book with the biggest sales, or the book with the most influence on the market.
One of the tests I have is how much detail about the plot and characters can I recall several months after I have read a book. The problem with the Larsson books is that Lisbeth Salander, even playing a passive part in this third book, is so memorable that everything else seems a blur.
In my personal opinion the remaining two books are slightly better written crime fiction novels, and they stand alone far better than the Stieg Larsson, which is obviously the third book in a trilogy.

So my final two contenders for the CWA International Dagger are:

[To be continued next week.]

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Update: This blog is now dormant, but if you go over to my new blog Crime Scraps Review you will find all the old posts and a lot of new material.

I watched The Witness, the final part of the second series of the Swedish Wallanders a few days ago.

The Witness involved a human trafficking trial, and subsequent threats to prosecutor Katarina Ahlsell [Lena Endre] and Kurt Wallander [Krister Henriksson].
Young Pontus and Isabel had gone off to new postings, and did not appear in this story.

The eponymous witness is a young child, who sees the ultimate result of exploitation of Lithuanian workers by Swedish employers, and middle men with Slavic names. The Swedish judicial system does not seem to be able to cope with this new breed of criminal.
At the end of the episode Katarina decides to move back to Stockholm, and Kurt faced by the prospect of more loneliness makes a decision.

I have read that Krister Henriksson does not want to make any more Wallanders, so this was a bittersweet finale to an excellent series.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Update: This blog is now dormant but you can read all the old posts and more new material at Crime Scraps Review

I complained recently about marketing stickers that were designed to cash in on the "Stieg Larsson phenomena".

But the main stream media and publishers won't let a good marketing ploy go without exploiting it to the full.
I can see it will not be long before we will have "Hamlet by William Shakespeare, people get murdered, it is set somewhere in Scandinavia, so if you liked Stieg Larsson you will enjoy this."

Or "Un Ballo in Maschera, by some Italian guy, but there is Swedish version about King Gustav, the something or other, so if you liked Stieg Larsson, and don't mind a bit of music you will love this".

My current rant was inspired by receiving Hakan Nesser's latest Van Veeteren book to be translated into English by Laurie Thompson, The Inspector and Silence.
On the front cover is the blurb:

'[Nesser] is being favourably compared with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson.'
Sunday Times

Why the brackets? Does Hakan Nesser need to be compared with anyone?
Would it not been more sensible to have marketed him on the cover as the writer who has won the Basta Svenska Kriminalroman three times, and been nominated for this prize a further seven times. You have to read the back flap and back cover to find out that he is not some new kid on the block.

Hakan Nesser's detective Van Veeteren has, like his creator, a sense of humour as do his team, something you don't find much of in Stieg Larsson, or Henning Mankell.
I would compare Hakan Nesser's style much more with Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo' Martin Beck series, but Larsson and Mankell are the current flavour of the month so up goes a sticker, or a blurb.
I suppose publishers and booksellers have to sell books, and if it encourages those people who have only heard of two Swedish crime fiction writers, to try the excellent Van Veeterens then perhaps I can put up with the marketing.

The prizes:

Basta Svenska Debut:
Hakan Nesser 1993

Stieg Larsson 2006
Henning Mankell 1991, 1995
Hakan Nesser 1994, 1996, 2007

Henning Mankell 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998
Hakan Nesser 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 200, 2001, 2009

Nordic Glass Key:
Stieg Larsson 2006, 2008
Henning Mankell 1992
Hakan Nesser 2000

CWA Gold Dagger:
Henning Mankell 2001


The thirteenth book in Ruth Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford series is called An Unkindness of Ravens [1985].
If an "unkindness" is the collective noun for a group of ravens, perhaps a "kindness" should be the collective noun for our community of bloggers.
I happened to mention to an attractive Scottish author, and well known blogger, that I could not read small fonts, and was attending hospital for retinal screening, and the next thing two superb audiobooks arrived in the post. Thank you.