Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Baker's Dozen of the Tiniest of Reviews

On my desk, I have a pile of books which I've read and not yet reviewed. Some have been there months. As I can barely remember the plots, I will just be giving very brief comments on what I felt about them. In alphabetical order:

1/2/3. M C Beaton - Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride/ Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body/Agatha Raisin: As the Pig Turns.
I'm still about 5 books behind in the Agatha Raisin series. These are numbers 20 to 22 in the series, which I read in effort to get up to date (and failed); there's only so many books you can read in the same series back to back. I went back to these for a comfort read, a sense of knowing what'll you'll get.
My Good Reads rating is 3 stars each.

4. Samuel Bjork - I'm Travelling Alone tr. Charlotte Barslund
I had such high hopes for this one. It was getting positive comments from other readers but for me it didn't flow. The chapters alternated between different characters and some of the chapters were deadly dull and held up the momentum of the main storyline. I like the police detectives so I will give the sequel, out in 2017, a go.
My Good Reads rating is 2 stars.

5. Andrea Camilleri - Angelica's Smile tr. Stephen Sartarelli
This is the seventeenth in the Montalbano series. For me, Montalbano's romantic entanglements with much younger women are becoming tiresome but that aside, this is another enjoyable outing.
My Good Reads rating is 4 stars.

6/7. Lee Child - Personal/Make Me
Numbers 19 and 20 in the series. I have read about a third of the Jack Reacher books. My favourite is still Without Fail. Personal is set quite a bit in the UK so occasionally suffers from some over-explanations for non-UK readers which feels a bit clunky at times. The plot is ok and his female sidekick in this book is a little different to the usual model. I found Make Me to be quite drawn out. I did enjoy the companion book, Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin - well the bits I could understand; it was a bit overly academic in parts. Read it after Make Me though!
My Good Reads rating is 3 stars each (and 4 stars for Andy Martin's book.)

8. Kati Hiekkapelto - The Defenceless tr. David Hackston
This is the second in the Anna Fekete series, which like its predecessor, The Hummingbird, was shortlisted for the Petrona Award. This is an excellent series which typifies the best of Scandinavian crime fiction with its focus on social issues.
My Good Reads rating is 4 stars.

9. Anne Holt - Dead Joker tr. Anne Bruce.
This is the fifth in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series. First published in 1999 and now in English in 2015. Thanks to the efforts of Corvus all 8 books in this series are now available in English. This outing is quite an emotional one for Hanne (and the reader).
My Good Reads rating is 3 stars.

10. Robert Karjel - My Name is N (apa The Swede) tr. Nancy Pick & Robert Karjel
I really liked this debut which introduces Swedish Security Police Officer Ernst Grip though most of the story is not set in Sweden but in Thailand, the US or an island military base. Quite a tense read with Grip having a major secret to keep from the Americans. Looks like it'll be a year or two until the sequel unfortunately.
My Good Reads rating is 4 stars.

11. M R C Kasasian - Death Descends on Saturn Villa
This is the third in this entertaining series starring Sidney Grice, London's only personal detective, and his young ward March Middleton. In this entry things don't go so well for March and Mr Grice has to save the day and take over narrating duties.
My Good Reads rating is 5 stars.

12. Jo Nesbo - Midnight Sun tr. Neil Smith
After the chilly Blood on Snow, this warm follow-up introduces a likeable but criminal young man who is on the run and ends up in the land of the midnight sun. Contains the usual well-constructed set pieces.
My Good Reads rating is 4 stars.

13. Kristina Ohlsson - Hostage tr. Marlaine Delargy.
My colleague Michelle has already reviewed Hostage. I too enjoy this series though I found this one a bit overlong at 500 pages.
My Good Reads rating is 3 stars.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl tr. K E Semmel

The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl translated by K E Semmel, October 2016, 480 pages, Hardback, Oneworld Publications, ISBN: 1780748892

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

For a long time he just wanted to be left alone. Without smiling. Without any kind of pleasure. Not even the sunshine or the starlight. He lay quietly, dispassionately observing the sky. But in the end this proved difficult. In the end the small pleasures found him.

New Year’s Eve, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.
The mountainside surrounding Erhard’s shack is completely dark and silent. It’s why Erhard Jørgensen, el ermitano, has loved living here for nearly eighteen years. Just him and the two goats, Laurel and Hardy. After more drinking Erhard decides he needs a girlfriend; a warm body, company. But he doesn’t have much to offer. In a few years she would have to empty his pot, shave him and pull off his shoes at the end of a day’s driving the taxi. Erhard thinks of Raul and Beatriz preparing for their New Year party, an invitation he refused. Beatriz’s perfume. No, he will think about the hairdresser’s daughter whom he has never met and seen only once; think of her sitting at his dinner table. Much too young. Thirty years difference. Not his type. He doesn’t know why he thinks of her so much. It must be the fault of her mother, the hairdresser. She is always talking about her, suggesting it’s time she found someone, someone like him. She even tells him where her daughter lives. Maybe he should drive over there now. Invite her out, get this over with. Erhard knows its the drink talking but he gets up and jams his legs into a pair of trousers from the clothes line. The goats run off into the darkness.

Erhard’s car hurtles down the mountain track towards the city and he swerves to avoid a goat. Was that Hardy? Surely not so far from the shack? Distracted, he doesn’t notice the oncoming car until too late. It swooshes past him, knocking his side mirror flat. He shouts at the car in Danish, rolling down his window to straighten the shattered mirror. That car looked like Bill Haji’s. Never mind, he must get to the hairdresser’s daughter.

The windows of her apartment are dark. Erhard walks to a familiar bar, orders a Rusty Nail and buys a round for the two olive farmers in the corner. At a quarter to midnight, he pays his bill and walks back to the hairdresser’s daughter’s flat. He can hear quiet sounds within the apartment and he raps on the door, catching sight of his wrinkled face in the nameplate as he does so. What has he got to offer? “I’m coming,” calls a soft voice from inside the apartment. And Erhard panics, running down the stairs and into the street, hugging the walls, fumbling his way into his car. He drives out of the city, back to his mountain, foot to the floor and only applies the brakes when his headlights pick out a giant turtle shape in the middle of the rough track. Bill Haji’s car, upside down, shattered windows, one of its doors hanging open. Erhard gets out. The sky explodes with the city’s midnight fireworks and as his eyes readjust to the darkness Erhard spots movement around the upturned car. Wild dogs, perhaps part of a pack still out there in the darkness. And he sees Haji’s body, what’s left of his face. Then a glint in the darkness, gold, a spark ignited by the firework bursts: Haji’s distinctive ring, on the ground near one of the wheels – embedded into the flesh of Haji’s severed finger. Erhard reaches for the finger. The feasting dogs growl. He goes back to his car and presses its wheezing horn, enough, momentarily, to drive the dogs away. He hurries back, lies down, stretches out and reaches for the finger whilst staring into Haji’s ruined face and eyes. Find the boy. A voice clear in his head. The whining of the dogs becomes agitated. He grabs the finger and backs off to his car. Nine plus one equals ten; his own nine fingers and Bill Haji’s one. Ten fingers. He is whole again...

The plot trigger for Erhard Jørgensen – 67 years old, Danish ex-pat, nine-fingered piano tuner, taxi driver and central figure of Thomas Rydahl’s novel THE HERMIT – is a drunken excursion with his friends, Raul and Beatriz, one stormy night, to watch the lightning down on the coast. But they find instead a crowd gathered round the spectacle of a stranded car. A police team with lights are examining its back seat and a cardboard box containing the body of a dead infant in a nest of newspaper cuttings – Danish newspaper cuttings. Soon the police are at Erhard’s door, asking for help with translating the cuttings found with the dead child. But when they quickly close the case – who wants the tragic story of a child’s death in a resort struggling to keep its tourist trade? – Erhard is driven to find answers. How did the car get onto the beach? Where and who is the mother? The hunt draws Erhard into conflict with powerful, unscrupulous men. It also begins the slow, painful process of stripping him of his Hermit status and forcing him back into some kind of relationship with the world.

Danish writer and translator Thomas Rydahl’s own inspirations are writers such as Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami and the character-strong qualities of Stephen King. Even though would-be publishers asked for more of a genre approach in his novel writing, it wasn’t his intention to write a crime novel. But one day he spotted a guitar in a cab-driver’s boot and Erhard Jørgensen was born. And in telling Erhard’s story, Rydahl found he had become “a crime writer”. So much so that in 2015 THE HERMIT became the first début novel to win a Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. Television rights have already been sold and Rydahl has finished the second in what he hopes to be a trilogy featuring Jørgensen.

THE HERMIT reads well in this translation by K E Semmel – translator of Karin Fossum and Jussi Adler Olsen amongst others. It is a fascinating novel, rich in characters, which combines menace with empathy as it twists towards its conclusion driven by Erhard's impulsive, unpredictable character and his struggle with his own entrenched “Hermit” existence. A big book, I nevertheless loved reading it and can’t recommend it highly enough to fans of Nordic Noir searching for a warmer climate.

Lynn Harvey, October 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

TV News: Books that Made Britain

The East Anglia edition of the Books that Made Britain focuses on crime writers, D L Sayers, PD James, Henry Sutton and Nicci French.

Watch it and the other ten episodes via iPlayer.

[Of the eleven episodes, it's disappointing that only three are presented by women.]

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

TV News: The Code is back

The second series of Australian drama, The Code, begins on BBC Four at 9pm on Saturday 22 October. It was shown on Australian tv last month.
Here's the synopsis for the first of the six episodes:
Hoping to escape the storm they unleashed previously, bruised but essentially scot-free, Jesse and Ned Banks are confronted with the terrifying possibility of being extradited to the US to face serious charges in an American court. Fortunately for the Banks brothers, Australian National Security is sitting on an explosive case they cannot crack, and Jesse might just be the man to do it.

Brilliant, mercurial Jan Roth (Anthony LaPaglia) hosts a hidden online bazaar of illicit weapons, drugs and dangerous ideas. Exchanging his hacker skills for their freedom, Jesse and Ned are drawn into Roth's dark world that could not only cost their own lives, but all that they hold dear.
The second episode follow hot on the heels of episode one, at 9.55pm the same night.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

CWA Dagger Winners 2016

From the official press release, the CWA Dagger Winners 2016 were announced last night:
CWA Daggers Awarded in Glittering Ceremony on Oct 11

All 10 winners of this year’s CWA Daggers were announced at a glittering black-tie occasion at the Grange City Hotel in Cooper’s Row, London on October 11.

The CWA Daggers, which are probably the awards crime writers and publishers alike most wish to win, are awarded every year in 10 categories but this was the first time in many years that all 10 were announced at the same occasion.

The Diamond Dagger, for a career’s outstanding contribution to crime fiction as nominated by CWA members, was announced earlier in the year and was awarded to chart-topper author Peter James, who received the stunning Cartier Diamond Dagger.

The other nine Dagger winners are as follows.

Goldsboro Gold – for the best crime novel of the year: Bill Beverly with Dodgers

Ian Fleming Steel – for the best crime thriller of the year; Don Winslow with The Cartel

John Creasey New Blood – for the best debut crime novel; Bill Beverly with Dodgers

Endeavour Historical – for the best historical crime novel; David Young with Stasi Child

Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction – for non-fiction crime; Andrew Hankinson with You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat]

Short Story – for a short crime story published in the UK; John Connolly with On the Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier from Nocturnes 2: Night Music

International – for crime fiction translated into English and published in the UK; Pierre Lemaître with The Great Swindle, translated by Frank Wynne

Dagger in the Library – for the author of the most enjoyed collection of work in libraries; Elly Griffiths

Debut Dagger sponsored by Orion Books – for the opening of a crime novel by a writer with no publishing contract at time of submission: Mark Brandi with Wimmera.

The after-dinner speaker was James Runcie, author of The Grantchester Mysteries and Master of Ceremonies was leading crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw, author of Brit Noir. Both entertained the assembled audience of authors, publishers, literary agents, CWA members and crime writing fans to the full!

TV & Radio News: Keeper of Lost Causes, Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers, Body Count Rising, Foreign Bodies

The film based on Jussi Adler-Olsen's The Keeper of Lost Causes (UK: Mercy) is showing on BBC Four on Saturday (15th) at 9pm.

More details on the BBC Website.

Read Maxine's review of the book, Mercy, translated by Lisa Hartford.

Also of interest next week on BBC Four, is Andrew Marr's Sleuths, Spies & Sorcerers which begins on Monday (17th), at 9pm. The first episode deals with detective fiction:
In the first episode of a series that explores the books we (really) read, Andrew Marr investigates the curious case of detective fiction. This is a genre that been producing best-sellers since the 19th century, and whose most famous heroes - Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Rebus - are now embedded in our collective psyche. But how does detective fiction work- and how do the best crime writers keep us compulsively turning the pages? 

Andrew deconstructs detective stories by looking at their 'rules' - the conventions we expect to be present when we pick up a typical mystery. Because detective fiction is an interactive puzzle, these rules are the rules of a game - a fiendish battle of wits between the reader and the writer. What is remarkable is that instead of restricting novelists (as you might expect), these rules stimulate creativity, and Andrew reveals how clever writers like Agatha Christie have used them to create a seemingly infinite number of story-telling possibilities.

The fictional detective is a brilliant invention, a figure who takes us to (often dark) places that we wouldn't normally visit. While we are in their company, no section of society is off-limits or above suspicion, and Andrew shows how writers have used crime fiction not merely to entertain, but also to anatomise society's problems. 

Andrew interviews modern-day crime writers including Ian Rankin, Sophie Hannah and Val McDermid, while profiling important pioneers such as Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Ruth Rendell. Along the way, he decodes various great set-pieces of the detective novel such as Hercule Poirot's drawing room denouements, and the 'locked room' mysteries of John Dickson Carr.
On Radio 4, listen online or download via iPlayer - Body Count Rising:
Killer brandishes knife....squeezes hands tightly around woman's throat....drags body through woods. This could describe any number of prime-time dramas on British TV.

There are numerous dramas with similar recurring narratives - a little girl abducted and murdered, a teenage girl raped, a wife beaten. Cue sinister music, graphic images, and sometimes overly-sexy portrayals of female victims. But has television culture made the depiction of rape and the ritualistic murder of women into an undesirable industry?

Audiences lap it up, but what does our fascination with glossy, high budget TV series, saturated with the corpses of unfortunate women, say about the society we live in, and the way we view women?

Actor Doon Mackichan examines the trend, speaking to criminal sociologist Ruth Penfold-Mounce; Variety's TV critic Sonia Saraiya; Allan Cubbit, writer and director of critically-acclaimed series The Fall; playwright Nick Payn; Elaine Collins, Executive Producer of Shetland; and an actor who has twice played a rape victim.
And courtesy of Radio 4 Extra, you can stream episodes of Mark Lawson's Foreign Bodies series from a couple of years ago:
Series 1 - Mark Lawson presents a history of modern Europe through literary detectives.
Series 2 - Mark Lawson looks at crime fiction as a form for exploring social change around the world.
Series 3 - Mark Lawson examines how mystery novels have reflected five different political systems.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Review: The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson, September 2016, 304 pages, Constable, ISBN: 1472122917

Reviewed by Amanda Gillies.
(Read more of Amanda's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

A wonderfully gripping thriller, THE CHILD GARDEN is the latest novel written by Catriona McPherson and will keep you guessing, as well as biting your nails, right until the very end. McPherson has several highly acclaimed novels to her name and currently writes full time. Edinburgh born, she has had a varied life, with jobs ranging from banking to academia, and now lives in California. Her current book is a stand-alone story but she also writes a series about a female detective called Dandy Gilver. THE CHILD GARDEN is my first foray into McPherson’s work. I am very tempted to try some more of it.

Gloria Harkness lives alone with a dog and several cats. She works as a registrar and is also tenant caretaker of an old farmhouse situated next to a nursing home. Every day for the last ten years she has dutifully visited the home to see her elderly, blind friend and her wonderful son - Nicky - who suffers from a terrible physical disability and is terminally ill. Gloria is lonely but one day everything changes when she opens her front door to a long-lost friend who insists he is being stalked. So begins Gloria’s adventure and her decision to help her friend brings a new beginning to her dull and insular life.

Thirty years before our story, the old house had been turned into a school, called Eden. It was a strange place and advertised itself as “an alternative school for happy children”. This, however, couldn’t have been further from the truth and the shocking suicide of one of the pupils meant that the place had to be shut down. Gloria’s friend used to be a pupil at the school. He is convinced something is not right and, when Gloria starts to dig, she discovers that very few of the children are still alive. Most of them have killed themselves in circumstances very similar to the first death all those years ago. Now Gloria’s friend’s life seems to be threatened and together they must hunt for the truth before it is too late.

Gloria is an extremely likeable character. She has had the same, quaint, hairstyle all of her life and seems to wear very old-fashioned, hand-made clothes. Despite her eccentricities, she has some good friends and a good heart. The reader is immediately on her side and willing her on – especially when she confronts her ex-husband about his attitude towards their son.

If you like a good mystery that gets you thinking, with good characters that you want to succeed and be happy, and yet is nasty enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, then THE CHILD GARDEN is just the book for you!

Highly Recommended.

Amanda Gillies, October 2016