Monday, February 28, 2011


I have just noticed that my review of Ben Pastor's Lumen was posted on Euro Crime back on 2 January.
Interestingly 'Ben' Pastor is the pen name of Maria VerBENa Pastor, and even more surprisingly it has taken 11 years for the novel to reach us in the UK, courtesy of the innovative Bitter Lemon Press.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


This blog is now dormant and has moved with all the old posts and comments to Crime Scraps Review at:

Most readers will know by now that I am a Camilleri aficionado enjoying everything he writes. The plots may be uneven and sometimes both Salvo Montalbano and the reader may become confused by events, but the books are always fun to read.
They have four basic ingredients, Salvo Montalbano, great supporting characters, gorgeous food, and beautiful women, [or should that be beautiful food and gorgeous women].

In The Track of the Sand, the twelfth Montalbano book to be superbly translated by Stephen Sartarelli into English, the melancholic detective awakes from a strange dream and finds a dead horse on the seashore outside his house.

"Of a clandestine horse-racing circuit in Vigata."
"And you think this horse was killed as a consequence of something that happened in those circles?"
"What else could it be? All we gotta do now is wait for the consequences of this consequence, which there will surely be."

It turns out that the horse may be one that disappeared from the stables of Saverio Lo Duca, one of the richest men in Sicily, and that it may belong to the stunningly beautiful blond Rachele Esterman.
Complications occur, Montalbano's house is ransacked, and he becomes even more melancholic reminiscing about his childhood, a night-fishing expedition with his uncle, and the taste of a lightly fried sole.

Montalbano also enjoys the company of Rachele, and along the way we discover not all the food in Sicily meets with his approval.

The waiter arrived, again with three plates. This time it was fried mullet.
The unmistakable stink of fish that had been dead for a week wafted into the terrified inspector's nostrils.

Montalbano and Rachele naturally avoid eating this, and few days later eat a antipasto that filled their table with goodies.

Shrimp, jumbo prawns, squid , smoked tuna. fried balls of nunnatu [tiny newborn fish], sea urchins, mussels, clams,............

The Track of the Sand is a fairly typical Montalbano book with a confusing plot, a large cast of characters, sparkling humour, Mafia, obnoxious superiors, culinary descriptions, and enigmatic women. These novels always exhibit the author's deep love of Sicily, and Sicilians.
I can highly recommend this light short read, that just happens to have a hero who enjoys reading Swedish crime fiction.

Its protagonist was a colleague of his, Inspector Martin Beck, whose manner of investigation he found very appealing. When he had finished the novel and turned out the light, it was four o'clock in the morning.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is organizing a charity raffle for Christchurch, New Zealand Earthquake Relief.

You can find full details here.

I remember many years ago checking through the Commonwealth War Graves website to find out where my uncle was buried. I came across a small cemetery in Northern France where there were the graves of two British soldiers, and forty four New Zealanders.

This is a worthy cause.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


You can see my 2010 top Eurocrime reads here at the website.
They were:
Hypothermia: Arnaldur Indridason translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb.
Three Seconds: Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom translated from the Swedish by Kari Dickson.
Murder at the Savoy: Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate
The Snowman: Jo Nesbo translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
The Woman from Bratislava: Leif Davidsen translated from the Danish by Barbara J. Haveland

and just missing out were.
Red Wolf: Liza Marklund translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith
Bad Intentions: Karin Fossum translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund

No surprises there as they are all translated Nordic crime fiction.

But my top non-European reads during 2010 were more varied in location as they were set across the globe in Australia, Brazil,, South Africa and Argentina:

Blood Safari: Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers
Needle in Haystack: Ernesto Mallo translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar

My top reads set in England were:

and the most surprisingly enjoyable book of the year, Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, which had so much more characterization and social commentary than I expected.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Over the weekend I read The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. This was the tenth and last book in the Martin Beck series that I have read, although it is seventh book they wrote. Usually reading a Scandinavian crime fiction series out of order is due to the eccentric publishing order, but in my case it was simply due to availability of the books in English. I read my first Martin Beck books about thirty years ago, and I might now go back and read all ten again in the correct order; they are that good.

When Chief Inspector Stig Nyman is sliced up with a carbine bayonet while ill in a Stockholm Hospital, Martin Beck and colleague Einar Ronn don't get much sleep as they investigate a long list of those who might have a grudge against the policeman. When Lennart Kollberg, who knew Nyman in the Army, and the abrasive Gunvald Larsson join the hunt for the perpetrator the action moves rapidly on to an exciting and dramatic denouement.

The theme of this book is the abuse of power by the state, in this case police officers, against vulnerable and apparently powerless citizens. When those citizens decide to fight back the authorities are caught off guard. This is a theme very relevant today, and something that has been taken up more recently by other Scandinavian crime writers.

Perhaps the brass realized that in the long run it would prove untenable simply to insist that everyone involved in sociology was actually a communist or some other subversive.

Of course Marxists Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo make you feel sympathetic to the underdog perpetrator, as they did in the previous book in the series Murder at the Savoy. The real villain there was unfeeling corrupt capitalism, in this book it is the 'look after our own' brutal police force backed by all the power of the state.

Martin Beck looked him in the eye and said reluctantly, 'He was a bad policeman.'
"Wrong,' said Kollberg. 'Now listen. Nyman was one hell of a bad policeman. He was a barbaric son of a bitch of the very worst sort.'

Written nearly forty years ago The Abominable Man is a simple uncomplicated short [216 pages] police procedural but the character development and theme are dealt with so cleverly that it is a classic read.
Sjowall and Wahloo were among the very few writers who could blend humour and tragedy so successfully into a concise story, leaving you satisfied but also wanting so much more of their addictive characters.

'If we'd known what society was coming to, we wouldn't have had any children at all. But they've been leading us on all these years.'
'Who?' said Ronn.
'The politicians. The party leaders. The ones we thought were on our side. Just gangsters, all of them.'

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I have managed to read two books so far this year, and both were good enough to keep my attention, no mean feat in the current circumstances.

The Serpent's Pool by Martin Edwards continues his brilliant Lake District Mystery series. DCI Hannah Scarlett finds that one of her old cold cases has links to the recent horrific death of a wealthy book collector, who happens to be one of boyfriend Marc's best customers. The story has a cast of great characters many of whom are the wealthy incomers, who in every country seem to occupy the most beautiful scenic areas ensuring that the locals cannot afford to live where they were born.
Martin Edwards has successfully blended the history of the Lake District, police politics, book shops, literary festivals and the personal relationships of his characters to give the reader an up to date version of the traditional English police procedural.
I will definitely return to this series to find out if Hannah dumps Marc, and does something about her attraction to Daniel.

U for Undertow by Sue Grafton is the first book I have read on my Kindle.
I am not sure I am a Kindle person as I love the feel of a book in my hands, but I can definitely see the advantages when faced by a heavy hardback of the neat easy to hold Kindle. The ability to increase the print size was a major factor in my purchasing the Kindle, and as I also had the clever cover with a built in light it was very useful when reading in bed, and not disturbing Mrs Crime Scraps.
The Kindle's ability to allow the reader to place bookmarks and comments, and retrieve them with ease is a boon to reviewers, and I might take more advantage of this in the future.
I must have read Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone novels before, after all A for Alibi was published in 1983, but I cannot remember which book it was among all the alphabetical titles.
In U for Undertow it is 1988 when Michael Sutton consults PI Kinsey Milhone, claiming to have seen two men burying a body behind a school friend's house back in 1967. It was around that time that a young girl was kidnapped and never seen again. Michael believes they were burying the victim but he was only six years old at that time and had a very disturbed childhood; so we can't be certain the event actually occurred. Is he crying wolf?
Sue Grafton alternates Kinsey's 1988 investigation with flashbacks to 1967. She writes from different perspectives, and takes us back into the world of the sexually liberated drug obsessed sixties, while also portraying the lives of her characters in Santa Teresa, a prosperous California town in the 1980s.
Family problems, including Kinsey's own, are the theme of the novel, and the reader is involved with the why and how, rather than who committed the crime. I am very tempted to go back and read some of Kinsey Milhone's earlier cases.

Sue Grafton and Martin Edwards are both excellent storytellers, more important in my mind than writing beautiful prose, and have created two of the most interesting female protagonists in crime fiction.

I should point out that owning a Kindle one does have to be very careful not to purchase book after book, because the ordering process is made dangerously easy. Be warned!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Some long running series exhaust their own resources for plots, and lose their freshness and vitality; but Camilleri avoids this by blending contemporary issues, such as illegal immigration, with his Sicilian setting, producing each time a mystery that engages both Montalbano and the reader.

Also a strongly drawn cast of major and minor characters are a sustaining strength of the series. Take for example the women in Salvo Montalbano's life: his girlfriend Livia, who lives in Genoa and is either too far away, or too close for comfort, depending on the situation; Ingrid Sjostrom, the blonde Swedish former racing driver, who Salvo thinks smells of apricots; and Adelina, his housekeeper, who rewards or punishes him with the dishes she leaves for him to eat.

The language that Camilleri uses is an integral part of the humour and entertainment that the books offer to the reader. The character of Catarella, who answers the phone at the police station desk, who mishears everything and mangles his words has become one of the great comic creations in crime fiction. He speaks in his own strange dialect and is the Sicilian equivalent of Mrs Malaprop. Translator Stephen Sartarelli does a fine job with Catarella's dialect, giving it a recognisable pattern of accident, and accent, that is both universal to verbal twits everywhere and somehow uniquely Sicilian as well.

At root though, it is the charm and wit of Salvo Montalbano, the liccu cannaratu [gourmand and glutton] that are the enduring reasons for reading these books. He exhibits an intense irritation with Italy's bureaucratic imbecility and has no patience with either stupid superiors or the new breed of sycophantic policemen.

Montalbano stands in contrast to his world so that the reader can identify with his honesty and his concern for other people. When he is not enjoying his time with Livia, reading, eating gorgeous meals, or enjoying precious solitude and thinking time, he is trying to bring law and order to the mean streets of Sicily.

In the next few weeks I will dive into The Track of Sand, the twelfth Montalbano novel to be translated in English which sits very temptingly on my TBR shelf.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


This is an article I wrote for the Picador website a couple of years ago. They have revamped the website and the article has been archived so I thought I would revive it here.

Andrea Camilleri was born in 1925 in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, and came to writing late in life. He has been a TV producer, drama teacher and theatre director. A committed Marxist, he was a great friend of another superb crime writer, Leonardo Sciascia, and he follows Sciascia's example of packing plenty of hard hitting content into a very few pages. Clive James once commented in The New Yorker that Camilleri could do a character's entire back-story in half a paragraph.

Now living in Rome, Camilleri sets his Montalbano novels in the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata. Since his success, his home town of Porto Empedocle has added Vigata to its name.
Sicily is the island where, as Sciascia said, 'the left hand does not trust the right hand even when they belong to the same man.' The Montalbano books communicate a real sense of place and through reading them we learn about the fabric of Sicilian society, Sicilian food, and also wider Italian history and politics.

Delicious meals and recipes are a major part of the entertainment in the Montalbano books and a cookery website in Illinois, Champaign Taste was inspired to start an event based on recipes from the novels.

Hardly surprising when Camilleri writes a sentence like this:

The pasta with crab was a graceful as a first-rate ballerina, but the stuffed bass in saffron sauce left him breathless, almost frightened. [The Snack Thief]

Salvo Montalbano, unlike his Northern European counterparts, is only really depressed when his housekeeper Adelina has left him nothing in the fridge and the Trattoria San Calagero is closed.

An erudite writer, Camilleri pepers his novels with references to authors such as Leonardo Sciascia, Luigi Pirandello, Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and William Faulkner; as well as philologist NicoloTommaseo, composers Giacomo Puccini and Guissepe Verdi, and to hefty chunks of Italian history. It is important to read translator Stephen Sartarelli's excellent notes to be able to better appreciate and enjoy the texture of the stories as they are woven onto the Sicilian canvas.
[to be continued]

Monday, February 14, 2011


One of the very kind messages of condolence we received after Jacob's death said 'better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.'
It reminded me of when Jacob was born and how that was such a stressful time; of course at that stage we did not know then he would be a constant joy, achieve so much and make us proud.
One of my patients an elderly lady with a foreign accent said 'better to have a child like that than never be able to have children', and she drew back her sleeve, and showed me what I realised was a concentration camp tattoo. I had a little cry with her then, and I have cried a lot these last few weeks.

But you have to move on a little bit at a time.
Blogging requires:
1] The ability to concentrate in order to be able read a fair amount of books.
2] Some opinions to express.
3] The motivation and energy to post those opinions.

I am alright with number two but a bit wobbly in the other departments at the moment, in fact at my present reading rate I might complete twelve books this year!
I have been watching a lot of light escapist TV programs such as Masterchef New Zealand, which is brilliant nonsense, a subtle blend of Masterchef, The Apprentice, and Big Brother.
Daytime TV does have some appalling features, such as the constant adverts for ambulance chasing lawyers and loan sharks [Ooops debt management and helpful loan companies] charging interest rates varying from 2,000-4,000% APR. The mob have a lot to learn from these guys.

Movies that I can recommend are:
The Town starring Ben Affleck and based on Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves. I think the ending of the film was slightly different from the book which I read in 2006, but it was a very exciting movie about bank robbers and armoured car thieves in Charlestown, Boston.

Winter's Bone set in the Missouri Ozarks and based on the book by Daniel Woodrell. This was a brilliant film with an evocative portrait of a very different poverty stricken America than we usually get dished up by Hollywood. It reminded us of our experience of driving through the beautiful mountains of Eastern Kentucky back in 2003.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting an article I wrote about Andrea Camilleri for Picador* [they have removed it from their website after a couple of years, so I better repost it here], my Best non-Eurocrime reads of 2010, and some thoughts on the Martin Beck books.
I think all those Vintage, Global, and Alphabetical challenges will be a bit beyond me this year, but I am hoping that Crime Scraps will continue even if on less regular basis.
[* at the instigation of Maxine of Petrona]

Sunday, February 06, 2011


8] Who was going to "stop at Marcini's for a little dinner on the way", and what was the connection to Yaakov Liebmann Beer?

I thought this might stump people, but you are a well read intelligent group.

At the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles Holmes asks Watson to go to the opera, and "stop at Marcini's for a little dinner on the way". The opera they are going to see is Les Hugenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer, whose real name was Yaakov Liebmann Beer.

9] A colourful British regiment should give you firstly a few clues that will lead you to cinema versions of a 1944 crime novel, and a fictional scourge of the French Revolution, on to a 1942 war movie and a Pulitzer Prize winning novel?
If you have found all the links you should have four matching pairs.

I admit this question developed a mind of its own and from a simple germ of an idea grew and grew into an ever more complex riddle. But one of the best efforts worked out that the 1944 crime novel was Green for Danger by Christianna Brand, and that obviously the fictional scourge of the French Revolution was The Scarlet Pimpernel.
But then went a bit off the track.

The important words were 'cinema versions' and the clue 'firstly a few'.

Let us start with the cinema version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which starred Leslie Howard as Sir Percy Blakeney.
Leslie Howard also starred in a 1942 war movie called 'First of the Few' when he played the part of R.J.Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire.
I am sure you see where we are going now.
One of Leslie Howard's most famous roles was as Ashley Wilkes, in Gone With the Wind, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Margaret Mitchell.

The 1946 cinema version of Green for Danger starred another British actor Trevor Howard.
There is a very famous British regiment called the Green Howards.

So we have, the Green Howards and Green for Danger, Leslie Howard and Trevor Howard, R.J.Mitchell and Margaret Mitchell, and the Scarlet Pimpernel and Scarlett O'Hara.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


6] What is the link between:

a) Max Mallowan and 10 Rillington Place

The name Christie is the link. Sir Max Mallowan was Agatha Christie's second husband, and 10 Rillington Place was the scene of a probable miscarriage of justice involving serial killer John Reginald Christie.

b) Betty Joan Perske's first husband, and a dealer in ship's supplies.

Chandler is the link. A dealer in ship's supplies is a chandler; Betty Joan Perske's screen name was Lauren Bacall, and her husband Humphrey Bogart famously played Raymond Chandler's private detective Philip Marlowe in the 1946 movie The Big Sleep.

c) A place of worship and a Celtic people.

Think of places of worship; church, synagogue, mosque? Temple!
South African born Aussie author Peter Temple's private detective is called Jack Irish.

7] How are transport to a music festival, biblical daughters, a lengthy conundrum and a path through trees, all linked to a Maltese Jew?

This question had people stumped. It was even suggested that the Maltese Jew was Peter Lorre, who was in fact born in Austria -Hungary [in present day Slovakia].

It was much more straightforward than that.
Transport to a music festival? Glastonbury, no Woodstock. Transport. Last Bus to Woodstock.
A path through trees, or The Way Through the Woods?
A lengthy conundrum? A conundrum perhaps a riddle. Lengthy? The Riddle of the Third Mile.
Biblical daughters? The Daughters of Cain.

They are all titles of Colin Dexter's books.
The connection with a Maltese Jew is Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta from which comes the quote The Wench is Dead, used as the title of another of Dexter's superb Morse books.
[to be continued, two more answers to come, one elementary, and one a creation of a mind with too many useless facts spinning round in it.]

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I will start back by giving you the first few answers to the Winter Quirky Quiz.

You can see the full list of questions here.

1] The photos are of course two time winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Inger Frimansson, and the wonderful Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

2] What is the cinematic link between Patricia Highsmith, and the British band Coldplay?

I did not want the first result of googling this [Jamie Thraves and the Cry of the Owl] but the much better known star from the movie of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley, Gwyneth Paltrow, who is married to Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, who comes from Exeter.

3] Who was "inquisitive, impetuous, alert, skeptical, pertinacious and resourceful"?

Archie Goodwin, according to supersleuth, gourmet and orchid collector Nero Wolfe.

4] Which crime fiction books end with the words:
a) X as in Marx.
This could only be from those well known Marxists Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and comes from The Terrorists, the tenth and last Martin Beck book.

b) "...never retired from work and came to grow vegetable marrows."

The murderer's lament at the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

5] Which crime fiction writer lost a name, the art of working together and a burial place when he crossed the Atlantic?

This was the first slightly tricky question. Here is how to tackle it.
The art of working together is collaboration= collaborator?
A burial place is a grave.
Who wrote books with 'collaborator' and 'grave' in the titles and those titles were changed?
The answer is:
Matt Beynon Rees in the USA became Matt Rees in the UK. The Collaborator of Bethlehem in the USA became The Bethlehem Murders in the UK, and A Grave in Gaza in the USA became The Saladin Murders in the UK.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Thanks to everyone for the cards, letters and emails expressing condolences and sympathy.

Jacob was very special to us and to all his many friends. The feeling of loss and the pain is indescribable.
It may seem strange but Jacob seemed a lot of the time to be looking after our family rather than the other way round. Jacob's homespun philosophy cut through the humbug and hypocrisy that mars relationships between supposedly intelligent people, and he got to the guts of problems. Jacob made himself an independent life as a musician, gardener, cleaner, cafe/bar worker, farm worker, traveller [New York, France, Spain, Romania and Ireland] and Star Trek fan. He made us proud.

In a few days I will begin posting the answers to the Winter Quirky Quiz, and then see how I feel about continuing to blog.