Thursday, March 31, 2011


'My name is Kaja Solness. I have been tasked with finding you. By Gunnar Hagen.'
No reaction to the name of his Crime Squad boss. Had he gone?

Detective Harry Hole deeply traumatised by the events of The Snowman investigation is hiding out in the opium dens of Hong Kong. When the beautiful Kaja Solness tells Harry his father Olav is dying, he agrees to return to Oslo and investigate the murders of two women, found with twenty four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood.
There are more murders and as the body count rises Harry, with the aid of the 'safely sectioned' Katrine Bratt's internet search skills, finds a connection between the victims. [Police colleague Katrine Bratt featured in The Snowman]
They all spent one night at the Havass mountain cabin, and so the story becomes an updated version of the old English country house mystery so popular in the Golden Age.

While trying to find the other occupants of the cabin, potential victims or perpetrators, Harry becomes involved in the political battle between Crime Squad, and Kripos lead by the charismatically handsome Mikael Bellman, a man with few scruples and boundless ambition.

'So if you can use this to outsmart the smart-arse and it leads to Bellman's plans for the evil empire being shelved, accept it with my blessing.'

This is a book about human relationships and what can develop from them; love, hate, vengeance, greed, ambition, humiliation, fear, and loneliness. The whole panoply of emotions felt from youth to old age and I should warn that is also a rather violent book, and contains just a few passages involving torture. The action takes place briefly in Hong Kong, mostly in Norway and then partly in the Congo, with a large cast of sharply drawn, but mostly unsympathetic characters.
The Leopard is a very long book [611 pages] that proved to be a very fast read because I was so completely engrossed in the characters, complexity of the plot and the various subplots. Definitely a page turner!
Jo Nesbo, aided by an excellent translation from Don Bartlett, teases the reader with plot twists and turns, providing a different solution to the crimes, and then taking the story back to change this again, and again, until the reader is left almost giddy. In what has become almost a trademark style he seemingly finishes the story, and then restarts it again to reach a slightly different ending.

Harry Hole, his character and his internal struggle, is the glue that holds this series together. Harry is tied up in a battle of intellects with both the perpetrator and with Bellman. The conflict is exacerbated because it seems Bellman has everything Harry lacks, position, power, wife, family, children, henchmen, and mistress. But Harry cares about people, Olav his father, Sis his sister with her 'little touch of Down's syndrome', his lost love Rakel and her son Oleg, his friend Oystein and his colleagues and this makes him vulnerable.
Will Harry find the perpetrator before Mikael Bellman, who seems to know the Crime Squad's moves before they happen? Why are the occupants of the Havass cabin being murdered one by one? What is the terrible connection with the Congo?

Right from the dismantling of colonialist governments in the sixties, they have used white people's feelings of guilt to acquire power, so that the real exploitation of the population could begin.

I can highly recommend The Leopard, despite the torture passages, and also the entire Harry Hole series as one of the best in modern crime fiction. Ignore the Next Stieg Larsson blurb Jo Nesbo is a unique talent, and Harry Hole one of my favourite detectives.

'You know me,' Harry said as Oystein stopped on red outside the Radisson SAS Hotel.
'I bloody do not,' Oystein said, sprinkling tobacco into his roll-up.
'How would I?'
'Well, we grew up together. Do you remember?'
'So? You were already a sodding enigma then, Harry.'

The Harry Hole series [books one and two are yet to be translated into English]

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I am now reading the 600 page Jo Nesbo thriller The Leopard. It is providing some much needed exercise just carrying it around as it dwarfs some other books on my TBR list.
There are very few authors who could get me involved in a book of this length, but I have whizzed through the first 200 pages totally engrossed, and of course teased by a typical Nesbo's surprise plot twist. It goes without saying that the translation by Don Bartlett reads so naturally that it seems as if the book was written in English.

'Who's out of his mind?'
'We're working in a prison,' Bjorn said. 'We're risking our jobs if the boss finds out what we're up to, and our colleague in Bergen......'
'She is seriously out of her mind.'
'You mean she's .....?'
'Sectioned out of her mind.'

Sunday, March 27, 2011


It is a miserably hot August in Venice and Guido Brunetti is dreaming of his holiday. But his colleague Vianello's aunt may the victim of a clever scam, and Brusca, head of the department of employment records at the Commune has a problem. Various court cases are being delayed for months, a procedure which benefits one of the parties, by Judge Coltellini, who appears to have her infatuated clerk Araldo Fontana trapped in her web.
When Brunetti leaves for his family holiday, getting away from Venice's stifling heat the train barely reaches Bolzano before he is brought back to investigate Fontana's murder, during an apparent mugging.

Donna Leon is back to form with this very Italian story of corruption, a clever scam, nepotism, and different forms of love cleverly worked into less than 300 pages.

Brusca sighed, then said in a sober voice, 'I think a great number of people are more interested in money than in love. Or even sex.'

The beautiful Paola Brunetti along with their children Raffi and Chiara add some eccentric charm to what is otherwise a fairly bleak tale of human frailty.

His daughter had gone to Milano, Brunetti reflected, site of the Brera Gallery, site of Leonardo's Cenacolo, site of the greatest Gothic Cathedral in Italy, and she had gone shopping.

Brunetti is assisted as usual by the ever reliable Ispettore Vianello, and the cool computer expert Signorina Elettra, while the sycophantic Vice-Questore Patta is up to his usual tricks.

She promised to get to it when the Vice-Questore was safely off to the Island of Ponza, where he and his family were to be the guests of the head of the city council of Venice, who had a summer home there.
'Yet another way to ensure the complete objectivity of the forces of order in any investigation of local politicians', Brunetti said when he heard the name of Patta's host.

Donna Leon writes to a formula that is successful because of the interesting characters, the Venetian setting, Brunetti's meals, and also because the books recount the struggles of honest men like Brunetti and Vianello trying to work in a system that is basically corrupt. Within her cleverly varied plots she is able to discuss all the problems that beset Italy including immigration, Mafia, the Church and endemic nepotism.
I know I will continue to read this fine series.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


The clocks go forward in the UK tonight as we move on to British Summertime.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


There is one shining exception to the plethora of melancholic single male detectives that are scattered throughout crime fiction. Commissario Guido Brunetti is very happily married to the fragrant Paola.

She was more than twenty years older than when he had first met her, and yet he could see no difference. Blonde hair that had a will of its own, a nose that was perhaps too large for this era of female beauty, the cheekbones that had drawn his first kisses.

Part of Paola's appeal is not only her intelligence, beauty, and cooking ability [not necessarily in that order] but her charmingly liberal left wing views. Of course with a career as an academic, and as the daughter of Count Orazio Falier, and the wife of Commissario Brunetti [definitely in that order] she is protected from most of life's harsh financial realities.
But the politicians are making such a complete hash of the future prospects for our children that even Paola is drifting rightwards.

I was surprised to realize a few days ago that some of the things the Lega says-those same things that had me wild with anger a decade ago-they're beginning to make sense to me.

O Paola say it ain't so.

But Paola is not alone. 'It didn't matter if the people who spoke to him had voted for or against the politicians they reviled: they'd be happy to lock them all up in the local church and set it ablaze.'

Quotes from A Question of Belief the 19th Venice-based Commissario Brunetti novel by Donna Leon.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Argentina in the early twentieth century was one of the riches countries in the world, but by 2001 when this thriller No-One Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi [translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor ] is set, the country is in economic meltdown.
Pablo Martelli, known as Gotan, was a policeman, a member of an elite unit known as the 'National Shame' but now sells bathroom fittings and lives with his cat Felix Jesus.
He receives an urgent late night phone call from his close friend Edmundo Carcano, and hurriedly drives to his coastal retreat at Mediomundo. But when he gets to his friend's chalet he is too late, Edmundo is dead.

We were thirty-six when a drunken general gave the order to invade the Malvinas. Too old to fight a war that was lost before it began, and yet two decades later my friend abandoned his wife Monica for a twenty-year-old blonde who was scarcely born when another general surrendered Port Stanley to save the lives of thousands of soldiers, not to mention his own.

Gotan searches for Edmundo's young girlfriend, and then attempts to find out what happened to his friend.
Along the way he meets corrupt provincial cops, a rotund pathologist, an investigative journalist, and an honest magistrate. He drives for miles across vast pampas, investigates derelict ghost towns, and hospitals now used as arms dumps having long ago given up the task of providing good medical care for the poor. He dreams of the tango and a lost lover, who rejected him when she learned of his past, and he uncovers cliques, cabals and treacherous plots aimed at the chaotic heart of Argentina.

Guillermo Orsi was born in Buenos Airies, where he lives and works as a journalist. His previous novel, Suenos de perro, won the Semana Negra Umbriel Award in 2004.
This novel is a brilliant account of a once rich country destroyed by corrupt, greedy politicians. That is what makes it so powerful and so relevant today, when we see around us how politicians will promise anything, and do anything, to obtain and maintain power.

There must be so little oxygen in the stratospheres of power that the politicians' neurones stop working.

No-One Loves a Policeman is full of dark cynicism and despair, and the historical asides tell a bleak story of stark brutality. While Argentina is looking back to its violent past as it deals with its ordinary citizens using the gun, the baton, tear gas and water cannon, but strangely ignores the drug gangs, who provide an income for a corrupt establishment. The social commentary in the book is reminiscent of Scandinavian crime fiction, but of course Argentina has a myriad of problems compared to Skane, or Oslo, or even downtown Malmo.

These were once the domain of Mapuches, Araucanians and Tehuelches, until in the nineteenth century that they were all wiped out by the campaigns of a general called Roca, the same general who the Peronist government decided to honour by baptising this railway line in his name.

I really enjoyed the cleverness and wise words in this black comedy of novel, but towards the end the closing chapters became a bit confused with a little too many twists and turns for my liking.
This was a novel well worth reading, and I shall keep an eye out for more of Guillermo Orsi, an author who truly understands the limitations of politicians.

The problem isn't the fact that this government will fall halfway through its term, it's who will take its place and announce for the nth time the arrival of a New Argentina.

Maxine of Petrona kindly gave me the book, and you can read her superb review of No-One Loves a Policeman here. I also "borrowed" her map of Argentina.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The crime fiction connections seem to follow me even when we are away from home for a few days.

If I was twenty years younger, and a lot wealthier, I might buy that Swedish retreat simply as a place to enjoy reading Asa Larsson and Johan Theorin

Friday, March 18, 2011


In 1934 Vienna concert pianist Viktor Rosen, a Jew in exile from Germany, teaches Meret Voytek, a ten-year old cello prodigy, but three years later as the Nazi menace approaches Rosen packs up his possessions and leaves for London.
Meret is not Jewish but she sees the effect on her city and her orchestra of the Nazi race policies; later she is arrested as a political prisoner and sent to Auschwitz.
Ironically Viktor Rosen, and Hungarian physicist Karel Szabo, who was working at Cambridge, are sent to the British internment camp on the Isle of Man along with a disparate foreign born group that includes Rod Troy, brother of Inspector Frederick Troy, the main protagonist of the series.

The big man replied in flawless English that he was, "fine with English," and Kornfeld readily deduced that this was yet another long-term resident, doubtless convinced of his own Englishness, caught in the net of a foreign birth, and contradictory truths.
"I'm Rodyon Troy, from Vienna. I think you will find quite a few of us are.

Physicist Karel Szabo is lucky and gets sent to Canada and from there to New Mexico to work on the Manhattan Project.

"I was thinking of a line from the Bhagavad Gita, 'I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' "

Moving on to post war London, the 1948 Olympic host city, the story becomes a police procedural with Frederick Troy investigating, in his inimitable style, a murder on the Northern Line of a Polish refugee.

Every country is pitching in to stop this event looking shabbier than it is. Between you and me it's a threadbare business, cobbled together, and I dearly wish the Mongolians or Mexicans were staging the games not us. We cannot afford it.

The story becomes imbued with large doses of English eccentricity and that considerably lightens the mood. A string of cameo appearances from lanky lunatic squadron leader Angus Pakenham, his spare false leg Ernest, crazy Polish pathologist Kolankiewicz, Jack Wildeve, Guy Burgess, doctor Anna Pakenham in a backless dress, and Quentin Crisp brought a smile to this reader's face.

"And so you find me here. Maudlin pissed, very much alive, chatting to a bloke on his way to a fancy-dress do. Once he gets the fruit hat on he''ll be a dead ringer for Carmen Miranda."
Troy thought better of explaining that Mr Crisp was in his everyday garb and said instead, "And you called me why, exactly?"

A Lily of the Field deals with very serious subjects, the death factory at Auschwitz, the Nazis destruction of the artistic and scientific life of Central Europe, the beginning of the Nuclear Age, the Cold War, spooks, codes, guns and the problems of post war austerity Britain, but it still keeps at its centre the charmingly eccentric Frederick Troy-part Endeavour Morse, part Bulldog Drummond.
This superb novel confirms John Lawton as one of today's finest writers of historical fiction.
The Troy series is definitely one not to be missed if you are interested in the social and political history of twentieth century Britain.

Troy novels in chronological order with links to my reviews:

Riptide [Bluffing Mr Churchill in the USA]
A Lily of the Field
Blue Rondo [Flesh Wounds in the USA]
A Little White Death

Monday, March 14, 2011


Watching the superb Danish television series The Killing I wonder if Sarah Lund's 280 euro sweater will join that exclusive group of iconic items that have become part of TV crime fiction folklore.

Columbo's raincoat
Inspector Morse's Jaguar.
Maigret's pipe.

Is The Killing the best TV crime program since The Wire or Spiral?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Last year I made a guest appearance as a humble policeman in the charming Aly Monroe's atmospheric spy thriller Washington Shadow.
Washington Shadow was nominated for the 2010 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award, but I think that had a lot more to do with the tension filled story than my name being used.

But now I have been upstaged as another member of our blogging group makes an appearance in John Lawton's historical novel A Lily of the Field, as a character who is a virtuoso violinist, a former child prodigy now in her early twenties, she is tall, dark, and ..........
Early twenties, tall, talented-I am a little jealous.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


'If the shit hits the fan, you can always get in touch with VV instead,' Malijsen explained. 'He's an old colleague of mine, and owes me a favour.'

When during the heat of a sweltering summer an anonymous woman caller telephones Acting Chief of Police Kluuge informing him that a girl is missing from the summer camp of the strange religious sect, The Pure Life, he sends for Chief Inspector Van Veeteren.

Van Veeteren is contemplating retirement, a position in an antiquarian bookshop, and an upcoming holiday in Crete, by chance in the same hotel as a chestnut haired woman from an earlier case. But the 'crackpot' Maljisen did save his life so he travels to Sorbinowo, a lake town deep in the forest, to investigate where he discovers that Oscar Yellinek, the priest who leads the sect, his three adult women disciples, and the twelve young girls attending the summer camp are all very uncooperative.
Then a girl's body is found in the woods, raped and strangled, and Oscar Yellinek has disappeared.
A media frenzy ensues but the women and girls of the Pure Life sect remain obstinately silent.

The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser is virtually a thesis on Van Veeteren's disillusionment with his job. Does he stay in the police seeing more bodies, dealing with more murderers and criminals, or does he retire to a life of books, drinking, eating, playing chess and listening to Faure and Pergolesi?
And if this sounds depressing the story's wit and ironic humour makes it a far less gloomy read than might be supposed from the subject matter.
The cameo appearances of interesting characters such as elderly newspaper editor Andrej Prezebuda, and the wooden legged cop Suijderbeck, as well as the accounts of Van Veeteren's idiosyncratic detection strategies make this a great read.

Red wine, he decided instead. It was only eleven in the morning, but not a minute too soon for a glass and a cigarette.

Hakan Nesser brilliantly captures the slowness, the frustrations, the boredom and false trails that can constitute a murder investigation.
The Van Veeteren books are a very intelligent police procedural series, and I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series out later this year.

'We have nothing to do with the investigation,' Reinhart explained. ' We've come here to track down an ancient detective chief inspector who's disappeared.'
'I'm on his trail,' said Van Veeteren.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Monday was a beautiful sunny day, so we drove up the scenic Exe Valley to Tiverton.
While Mrs Crime Scraps went into charity shops I rushed along to Waterstone's for some bibliotherapy. Imagine my surprise and shock to find it closed.
Next door to the defunct Waterstone's is an Alworths replacement for Woolworth with a 70% sale on, and on the other side Edinburgh Wool with a 60% sale, so I should hardly have been surprised that this small market town is suffering so badly from the recession.
But the fact that the shop was shut was not the only annoyance, as the abandoned
bookshop had a notice on the window stating that Waterstone's nearest store was in Barnstaple.

This is of course absolute nonsense, because Exeter [16 miles with two stores] is much closer to Tiverton than Barnstaple [30 miles].

It is sad that an interesting book store has closed, and extremely sad that the Waterstone's management don't know the geography of Devon.

But I was cheered up no end by the display in WH Smith, where as you can see the virulent Stieg Larsson sticker has mutated into a Jo Nesbo and the epidemic has spread to Camilla Lackberg's books.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I recently treated myself by purchasing brand new copies of the ten Harper Perennial Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Martin Beck books that I did not have in my possession in order to make a complete set.
They certainly look rather smart on my bookshelf, and the pages are readable unlike the miniscule font in some of my battered 1970 editions. The introductions by some famous authors should be an interesting diversion, although I immediately spotted a error in Henning Mankell's intro to Roseanna, the first book in the series.

'They were influenced and inspired by the American writer Ed McBain.'

Not true says Maj Sjowall in this article by Tom Nolan.

'When we started writing the series we didn't know about Ed McBain.'

My real purpose in these purchases was not the aesthetics of my shelving, but my plan [health willing] to do a marathon ten Martin Beck read later this year. I have read these books out of order, spread out over a period of nearly thirty years, and it is clearly time to go back and re-read them in the intended order.

At the moment I am about half way through Hakan Nesser's The Inspector and Silence, the fifth book in the ten book Van Veeteren series to be translated into English by Laurie Thompon.
With its chess playing, music loving detective, idiosyncratic characters, ironic humour and intelligent thought provoking plots this series is in my opinion rapidly assuming a premier position among police procedurals.

Hakan Nesser looks to me more like the heir to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo than any of his rivals?

They had spent several hours together on subsequent evenings, and the lasting impression Van Veeteren had of his rescuer was that he was a rather untalented crackpot holding a series-more or less seriously meant-ideas and principles about practically everything.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


I have just finished reading Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint.
Shamini Flint was a lawyer who worked with a prestigious international law firm in Singapore traveling extensively around Asia, before resigning to become a writer, stay-at-home mum, lecturer and environmental campaigner.
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is the first in a series in which Inspector Singh, a portly and sometimes grumpy Sikh police officer, travels round Asia solving crimes. The other books in the series are set in Bali [Indonesia], Singapore [Inspector Singh's home country], and Cambodia.

Sometimes blurbs and reviews give a slightly incorrect slant on a book. The review in the Guardian, quoted on Shamini's website begins...
'Down these mean streets a man must waddle'

On the back cover we read Inspector Singh 'travels throughout Asia busting crimes! Stop No 1: Malaysia'

I think this might give some potential readers the impression A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is merely a light romp. In my opinion it is a topical book, that addresses many of the important cultural differences between Malaysia and Singapore, some of which may become more relevant to Europe in the future.

Singaporeans were always adding to the list of reasons each one kept to hand, in case they met a Malaysian, of why it was so much better on the island than the peninsula. They ranged from law and order to cleanliness, from clean government to good schools, and always ended up on the strength of the Singaporean economy. But in the end, the Malaysian would nod, as if to agree to the points made-then shrug to indicate that they probably wouldn't trade passports, not really.
And if pressed for a reason they would fall back on that old chestnut which seemed to capture everything that was wrong about Singapore-

-but your government bans chewing gum.

Chelsea Liew, a famous Singaporean model, has been arrested for the murder of her abusive and unfaithful ex-husband, Alan Lee, a man whose considerable wealth comes from the timber industry. Inspector Singh is sent by the Singapore authorities to ensure the investigation of his murder has been carried out correctly, and Chelsea Liew gets a fair trial. Chelsea and Alan had been involved in an acrimonious custody battle for their children, but Alan had taken a major step in winning that battle by converting to Islam, and this is regarded as Chelsea's misguided motive for killing him.

If they do that -well, then strictly as a matter of Islamic family law, the children should be brought up as Moslems...and by Moslems.

Inspector Singh believes she is innocent, perhaps he is influenced by her beauty, or by the fact there are a string of other suspects with good motives for murder.
Inspector Singh, with the young Malaysian police man Sergeant Shukor, begin to investigate those suspects, who include, Kian Min and Jasper, Alan's brothers, Marcus, his son, and Sharifah, his teenage mistress. Definitely enough suspects for a string of red herrings, sub plots and false trails to be laid before the dramatic finale.
The author takes us on a guided tour of the complexities of the position of minorities in the Muslim state of Malaysia, while we also learn about the environmentally damaging deforestation of protected areas in Borneo.
But those regular ingredients of the crime novel, greed, sexual jealousy, infidelity, spousal abuse, and revenge play a large part in an interesting first book in what promises to be a series with great scope for varied plots in some exotic locations.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I'm not big on social graces
Think I'll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I've got friends in low places

[From the 1990 hit Friends in Low Places sung by Garth Brooks, lyrics by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee]