dettaglio_282The almanacks say that Summer ends on 31 August so it was with impeccable timing that Daniela Petracco, director of Europa Editions London office, recently sent me Phillipe Georget’s new Inspector Sebag mystery, Autumn All The Cats Return [French title- Les violents de l'automne].

This is the sequel to Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored which was one of my five favourite  reads of 2013.

When an elderly Pied-Noir is found murdered and the letters OAS left scrawled in black paint on the door, Gilles  Sebag and Jacques Molina must investigate whether the motive for the crime dates back to the Algerian War.

Pied-Noir, literal translation Black-Foot. A French person born in Algeria before it gained independence.

OAS [Organisation armee secrete] A dissident paramilitary organization that sought to prevent Algeria from gaining independence from French rule during the Algerian War [1954-1962]

Sebag has also promised his 13 year old daughter Severine that he would look into the scooter accident that caused the death of Mathieu one of her friends from school. A small van driven by Pascal Lucas a man who had been drinking, and who claimed he was forced to swerve by a white Renault Clio that ran a stop sign. Sebag does not have much confidence in the head of the Accidents group Lieutenant Esteve Cardona, who dislikes Gilles because he is a Parisian, and a considerably better detective, and they argue about Sebag’s interference.

“Cardona’s as stupid as he is nasty. But what can I say? He’s not even a real Catalan. His father came from Andalusia!”

The tale of a criminal investigation with an intriguing political and historical background, blended in with the  story of Gilles marriage to the beautiful Claire, and his love for his children Severine and Leo promise to make this a great read.

The reader is given glimpses of the past in narrative flashbacks to Algiers 1961, with accounts of the murders perpetrated by the OAS. Of course the OAS would claim they were responding to FLN attacks. [FLN- Front de Liberation Nationale founded in 1954 to end French rule of Algeria].

“As a Catalan, how would you feel if you’d had to leave your native country?”

“You can’t make that comparison, it’s completely different!”

“Is it? Why?” 

“Algeria wasn’t their country!”

“They were born there, and their parents and grandparents, too, sometimes.” “Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything: it wasn’t their country. It couldn’t last. The crusades didn’t last either. They should have known that.” 

Quite a bit to think about in that passage. 

How long does a conquest have to last before the conqueror claims the land as their own? What happens when the original people of the land want it back? I am only on page 109 so I may have more to say when I have finished reading this very promising book.   

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The next book I read  was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger, author of the Cork O’Connor series, which is a stand alone novel that not only won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Crime Novel, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, but has been nominated for several others.

 

51UQkttWO5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The opening prologue sets the scene as the narrator Frank Drum  looks back from the perspective of forty years on the summer of 1961, and the seemingly idyllic setting of a small town in middle America when he was 13 years old. 

All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.

Ordinary Grace is beautifully written lyrical, emotional, multilayered, schmaltzy and very American novel. I admit to crying at one point as the plot unfolded and I realised that all the characters are flawed in some way. Their visible flaws, Frank’s younger brother Jake has a bad stutter, his older sister Ariel has a hare lip, her boyfriend Karl’s family includes Lise who is deaf and her uncle Emil, a concert pianist who is blind, are as nothing to the secrets they keep hidden inside.

It is as if Frank is feeling nostalgia for a lost time and a utopian childhood world that never was. The tone of Ordinary Grace has been compared, by The Detroit News, to Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird with its combination of dread and nostalgia. The nostalgia is heavily laid on so that the terrible events are that much more shocking.

Ordinary Grace is a very good read but be prepared to have your heartstings pulled as the crisply drawn characters exhibit feet of clay, and the reader is made to understand that although at times life is very hard we have to go on even though we are distraught with grief.

IMG4The Hunting Dogs by Jorn lier Horst translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce has won both The Golden Revolver [Top Norwegian Crime Novel 2013] and The Nordic Glass Key 2013. The Hunting Dogs is written in a clinical factual police procedural style which is compelling. I thought this a superior book to the author’s Closed For Winter. 

Seventeen years earlier William Wisting lead the investigation into the murder of Cecilia Linde, now it seems the evidence may have been fabricated and DNA may have beenn planted by the police. The convicted man Rudolf Haglund is free and Wisting is suspended as an investigation begins. 

Meanwhile Wisting’s crime reporter daughter Line is looking into the murder of one Jonas Ravneberg , and is also very concerned that the media have already made a negative judgement about her father. Then another young woman goes missing…….

‘We killed Cecilia Linde,’ Wisting repeated.

‘When you approached the media and told them about the cassette you gave the murderer no alternative.’

The Hunting Dogs explores the relationship between father and daughter, the media’s responsibility in dealing with abduction cases, and the stress placed on the detectives in such cases. It also raises issues about the question of how a system of law that is balanced heavily in favour of  perpetrators and their human rights as opposed to those of their victims can function in a very violent world. As a retired policeman once said to me “we can’t interrogate people anymore we have to bore them into a confession”. 

The Hunting Dogs has to be a strong contender for the International Dagger and Petrona Awards next year.

‘What’s he doing?’ Morten P asked.

‘He’s just sitting watching people,’ Line said but, at that moment, it dawned on her he was not simply looking. He was selecting individuals and studying them in detail. All of them young women.

51oNv3l+zUL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Cobra by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers is a fast moving thriller set in Cape Town. Benny Griessel  is called to a bloodbath when trained bodyguards have been executed at a luxury guesthouse by a professional killer, or killers, leaving behind distinctive shell casings marked with a cobra. A mysterious Briton Paul Morris, a man seemingly with no past, is missing presumed kidnapped.

Meanwhile charming young pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is plying his trade in order to help pay for his sister Nadia’s university fees. But when he is picked up by security guards for stealing a beautiful foreigner’s purse, a figure intervenes killing the guards but allowing Tyrone to escape leaving behind his mobile phone. 

Tyrone still has the disk wanted by the killers, and when Paul Morris is identified a race develops to save him and Nadia who has been seized by the Cobra killers. Yes it is all very complicated, and exciting. Although Cobra is marketed as a Benny Griessel novel, my favourite police person in the novel is:

Captain Mbali Kaleni was the only woman in the DPCI’s Violent Crimes Team. For six long months now. She was short and very fat. She was never to be seen without her SAPS identity card on a ribbon around her neck, and her service pistol on her plump hip. When she left her office, there was a huge  handbag of shiny black leather over her shoulder. 

She is my favourite character because doesn’t fit the stereotype of women cops in crime fiction, and above all she is honest.

‘State security eavesdropping on us, taking over a criminal case. Just like in apartheid times. We are destroying our democracy, and I will not stand by and let it happen. And it will, if we let it. I owe it to my parents’ struggle, and I owe it to my country.’

Another fine book that should be a contender for the International Dagger.   

photo 3_2During an eventful summer I read six crime fiction books that I haven’t reviewed as yet. I will say a few words about each of them, and possibly expand on that if the more recent books are shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, or the Petrona Award next year. 

Agatha Christie isn’t the most widely published author of all time for nothing. Reading her books is relaxing and takes you into a different world away from the many worries of 21st Century life. I read two of Agatha’s novels; The Secret of Chimneys from 1925, and Crooked House from 1949.

The Secret of Chimneys [1925] is truly evocative of its age with some politically incorrect xenophobia, and a plot involving jewel thieves, Balkan spies, glamourous seductive flappers, maids, butlers, and amiable young men at the Foreign Office. 

Bill Eversleigh was an extremely nice lad. He was a good cricketer and a scratch golfer, he had pleasant manners, and an amiable disposition, but his position at the Foreign Office had been gained, not by brains, but by good connexions.

If you read between the lines Agatha Christie was a great observer of people, and even as early in her writing career as 1925 some of her commentary on the ruling class is very much to the point.

On the sideboard were half a score of heavy silver dishes, ingeniously kept hot by patent arrangements.

‘Omelet,’ said Lord Caterham, lifting each lid in turn.’ Eggs and bacon, kidneys, devilled bird, haddock, cold ham, cold pheasant. I don’t like any of these things, Tredwell. Ask the cook to poach me an egg, will you?

‘Very good , my lord.’

The plot is ridiculous, the thriller element unbelievable, the characters are stereotypes, but above all  it is frivolous fun and escapism so one can almost excuse the references to a dago, and this sort of tosh:

‘Herman Isaacstein. The representative of the syndicate I spoke to you about.’

‘The all-British syndicate?’

‘Yes. Why?’ ‘

Nothing-nothing-I only wondered, that’s all. Curious names these people have.’

That is how it was in 1925 and for many years after. Trying to sanitise historical attitudes by for example removing the n- word from Mark Twain, or taking out the anti-Semitism from many of the Golden Age writers will blind us to far more serious present day problems. photo

Crooked House [1949] is a far superior novel, a classic country house mystery with a dysfunctional family, an elderly victim of a poisoning, Aristide Leonides, [how Christie loved her poisons] and some well drawn characters. Aristide, a Greek, originally came from Smyrna and his elderly sister-in-law does on one occasion refer to him as a dago, but otherwise the book won’t offend as much as the earlier work. 

The Crooked House is lived in by Aristide, and his much younger second wife Brenda.

Aristide’s grown up children by his first wife, Philip and his wife Magda, an actress, who have three children, Sophia engaged to our hero Charles Hayward, and the younger Eustace and Josephine. Roger and his wife Clemency, who don’t have any children. Roger runs Aristide’s business now. Aristide had settled large amounts of money on his children, and everyone in the house appears to be financially very comfortable.

The younger children have a tutor Laurence Brown, who may or may not be having an affair with Brenda. There is also Edith de Haviland, sister of the first Mrs Leonides, and Nannie an elderly retainer who looks after Josephine. 

As Chief Inspector Taverner exclaims-

“Everybody in the damned house had a means and opportunity. What I want is a motive.”

The plot is taut with an ending in which Agatha Christie once again does something completely unconventional. A very good read.

The third English crime fiction book I read this summer was by coincidence The Riddle of The Third Mile [1983] by Colin Dexter.

I have to admit that I found this novel a little hard going. I think the author’s plot twists are a bit too clever for me, and I have come to the conclusion that his reputation does owe a lot to the brilliant acting in the TV series by John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis. The complexity of this plot blending Oxford Dons, an unidentifiable body with no head or hands, exam results, the college vacation, tooth abscesses, strip clubs, prostitutes and removal firms had me slightly confused for a little while, but then so was Morse.

Back in Morse’s office, Lewis launched into his questions: ‘It’s pretty certainly Brown-Smith’s body, don’t you think, sir?’  

‘Don’t know.’

‘But surely-‘

‘I said I don’t bloody know!’ 

The Riddle of The Third Mile was a good read, although the theme of feuding dons seemed a little repetitive, possibly because I have watched too many episodes of the TV series. 

[Summer reading roundup to be continued]     

G FileI found deciding on one book to recommend to dear Maxine a difficult task, but after several weeks prevarication I have selected The G File by Hakan Nesser translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. The G File is a very long book weighing in at 601 pages in my hardback version, but that wouldn’t have put off Maxine, she was a lady who read Trollope for relaxation; Anthony [1815-1882] not Joanna [1943-].

Hakan Nesser is an author who creates memorable characters and manages to include in his dark plots about violent acts a smattering of wit and humour. I feel that if one likes an author it improves your enjoyment of his or her books. Maxine and I were lucky enough to meet and chat with the charming Hakan at CrimeFest 2009 in Bristol, so I am fairly certain that she would have devoured The G File with the same enthusiasm as I did. P1010568_2

The G File is the tenth and last book in the Van Veeteren  series, one of the few detective series I have read in the correct order. The story begins back in 1987 when private detective Maarten Verlangen, a drunken ex-policeman struggling to survive financially is hired by a beautiful American woman, Barbara Hennan, to follow her husband and report on his activities. She gives him no idea of her reasons, but Verlangen knows her husband Jaan G. Hennan from his time in the police.

Trustor had wanted a sort of detective who could investigate irregularities using somewhat unorthodox methods- and what could possibly be more appropriate in the circumstances than a police officer who had been sacked-or rather, ‘had chosen to leave the force rather than be hanged in a public place. A gentlemen’s agreement.

 The pathetic failure Verlangen is contrasted from the start with the successful Jaan G Hennan, who seems to have it all. 

And ten times more desirable. No, not ten times. Ten thousand times. Why on earth would anybody want to be unfaithful if they had a woman like Barbara? Incomprehensible.

A dozen years previously when Verlangen had been a functioning policeman he had been one of the team who had put Jaan G Hennan in prison for two years  six months for drug dealing. 

Verlangen spends his time drinking and watching Jaan G. Hennan and when instructed by Barbara not to let him out of his sight one evening he follows him to the Columbine restaurant, and they both have a meal. Jaan G. Hennan joins a shocked Verlangen at his table, introduces himself and they drink together, Verlangen getting very drunk. And as Henman drops him off at his hotel he thinks….

On the whole Hennan had behaved reasonably , and the reason his wife wanted him to be kept under observation was more enveloped in mystery than ever.

When Jaan G. Hennan returns home he discovers that his wife Barbara has fallen from the high diving board into their swimming pool which happens to be empty. Murder, manslaughter, accident? Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, who also knows Jaan G Hennan from their schooldays is convinced that G was behind his wife’s death, but G has Verlangen and others as a cast iron alibi.

G is a man with a very dark past, he was the school bully and his casual brutality lead to the suicide of another pupil. A few years later G had treated a girl friend of Van Veeteren very badly. Van Veeteren had persistent feelings of guilt for not standing up to G at school.

When further investigations of the Hennan’s finances reveal a large life insurance policy taken out on Barbara Hennan, Van Veeteren is distraught at the inevitable outcome the result of a Northern European liberal justice system.

: the accursed G had been able to sit back and relax, and wait for the inevitable outcome- a not guilty verdict and one point two million guilders.

The narrative jumps forward 15 years to 2002 [the book dates from 2003 English readers have had a long wait for this series to reach us] when Van Veeteren is retired from the police, running Krantze’s Antiquarian bookshop and settled into a less stressful new life.

A young woman comes to see Van Veeteren, sent by his former colleague Munster, she is Maarten Verlangen’s daughter. She tells Van Veeteren that her father continued to drink excessively brooding  about G and the death of Barbara Hennan. Now the private detective has disappeared leaving an A4 sheet of lined paper from a spiral bound pad on his kitchen table.

Written on it were  “14.42” and “G. Bloody Hell”.

The former Chief Inspector Van Veeteren begins a search for Verlangen.

They had eaten turbot, if he remembered rightly, and drunk a bottle of Sauternes…..That was before the antiquarian bookshop. Before Ulrike. Before Erich’s death.

It wasn’t even a decade ago, he thought. But nevertheless my life has changed fundamentally. I’d never have believed it at that time.

Bausen cleared his throat, and Van Veeteren came back down to earth.

The G File is a well constructed detailed police procedural. There are few plot pyrotechnics, it does not need them, and while veteran crime aficionados might be able to guess the solution to the killing of Barbara Hennan the writing [and translation by Laurie Thompson] are of such a high quality that 600 pages soon whiz past. The G File is all about compelling characters, thinking about life’s mysteries, the creation of a dark brooding atmosphere, and the question how does a liberal justice system deal with really bad people.

The G File is a worthy finale of this series, and I am sure Maxine would have agreed with me that Van Veeteren deserves a place alongside Morse, Maigret, and Rebus in the panoply of great police detectives.

There was no point in speculating on that as well, of course, and he soon grew tired of trying to find alternative ways through the swamp that was life. His own path and turned out the way it did, and if he thought about it at all nowadays, it was with gratitude. Despite everything.    

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A short pleasant read ideal for a summer afternoon.

This is the second book in the Bar Lume series where we are once again introduced to barman Massimo Viviani, and the four elderly patrons of his bar. The small coastal town of Pineta near Pisa in Northern Italy comes alive as an international conference arrives. Massimo is the caterer  and when one of the delegates a Japanese professor named Asahara is found dead in suspicious circumstances, Massimo becomes once again an amateur detective.

The plot is nice and simple; Aldo, Ampelio, Del Tacca, Rimediotti, the elderly patrons are irascible, Tiziana the barmaid is beautiful, the policeman Fusco is useless, and Massimo is constantly amusing as he solves the crime.

Remarkable, Massimo thought. A man who looked about a hundred and six and could barely keep awake was, according to the doctors , in the peak of condition. What constitutions the Japanese have. Obviously sushi, green, tea and puffer fish keep you fit  even if you lead a crap life. Getting up in the morning, the subway, the work., the bowing…..

Three-Card Monte may be lightweight, but it is full of fun, and the charm of the series is in the interactions between the cast of  characters in a small provincial town, where sometimes the monotony is broken by a “nice murder”.

Whoever is toughest wins. 

History is full of such episodes. Think for example , of Caesar and Anthony. Think of Churchill and Stalin. Think of Zidane and Materazzi. 

An example of the author’s wit and also  placing this story very firmly in Italy where football is rather important. [The reference is to the World Cup Final 2006 Italy versus France]

I particularly liked this passage among  the dedications at the end: 

Ampelio is a fairly faithful portrait of my grandfather Varisello, who spent ninety-three years commenting on everything he didn’t like about the world ( and that included a lot).   

My review of Game for Five  the first book in the Bar Lume series.     

51RqOrvgisL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Gallowglass [Gaelic: galloglaigh] An elite Scottish mercenary warrior. 

Gallowglass is the final instalment in the Douglas Brodie series set in the harsh world of post Second World War Scotland.

Brodie, a crime reporter for the Glasgow Gazette is recovering from chasing Nazi war criminals across Glasgow is asked by the wife of a distinguished banker to carry the ransom money to his kidnappers. But Brodie is being set up and is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Sir Fraser Gibson of the Scottish Linen Bank. The world was a very different place in 1947…..

Viscount Louis Mountbatten had just announced the intended partition of India and the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan. It meant the loss of the shiniest jewel in our imperial crown. Violence was already erupting as the citizens of these nascent states took sides. I’d given it a local spin by suggesting it might put up the price of Lipton’s. 

Some things never change, but in 1947 the UK including Scotland had the death penalty, therefore Brodie’s friends including his lover advocate Samantha Campbell, and those in MI5 who remember his exemplary war service and his efforts to uncover the Nazi ratline, engineer an escape. Brodie must deal with crooked cops, local gangsters and  a privileged elite for whom embezzlement is a way of life in order to save himself from the gallows. 

Brodie as a character, his relationship with Sam Campbell, and the detailed accounts of Glasgow with its social divisions between rich and poor, are the reasons I like the series. Brodie is a bit like a Scottish Bulldog Drummond, but one without the nasty jingoism that spoils Sapper’s books for a modern reader. But he does go rushing around righting wrongs and putting villains in their place. The first person narrative flows easily and there is always a little humour as when Brodie is in prison and Sam brings him his reading material.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, the tale of a man wrongfully imprisoned, who escapes and then metes out justice and revenge on the men who’d arranged his incarceration. My plan exactly.

Gordon Ferris has written an exciting adventure story with some relevant comments for our time. I am quite sad to see the end of Brodie, he was an interesting man, a veteran who had gone through the trauma of war and its aftermath to return home at a very difficult time for Britain. 

Halfway along stood the Scottish Linen bank, its solid red sandstone facade proclaiming rectitude and propriety. 

Your money is safe with us and we might let you have some of it back if you ask politely and do a bit of grovelling.    

My review of Pilgrim Soul.

51MLwvIJgBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Red Sparrow won the 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel, and this modern spy novel is an exciting read and worthy prize winner. I don’t think it quite compares to the  best work of John Le Carre, Charles McCarry or Len Deighton, but it is a very good debut novel. 

I mentioned Epigraphs when posting about Colin Dexter’s The Secret of Annexe 3, well Red Sparrow is all about Experience, Espionage and Epicure. 

Experience: author Jason Matthews has 33 years experience as an officer in the CIA’s Operations Directorate, now the National Clandestine Service.

Espionage: Red Sparrow is packed full of spy tradecraft, as CIA operative Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Nash is targeted by the beautiful Dominika Egorova, a trainee of the Sparrow School of seduction. Dominika  is the niece of Vanya Egorov, Deputy Director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, the Foreign Intelligence Service. Nate is running a CIA mole MARBLE who is embedded deep inside the SVR, and while Dominika is attempting to recruit Nate, Nate is also trying to recruit her because of her relationship with Egorov.

Like most spy stories there are lots of complexities, and love affairs, betrayals but the characters are dealt with in a mature fashion, and the writing is of a quality that makes the 500 plus pages go smoothly. Matthews makes you care about what happens to these people. In Red Sparrow there is more thinking, and eating than shooting.

Epicure [a person who appreciates fine food and drink]: One feature I loved about the book is that every chapter ends with a recipe that refers to a meal eaten by the characters during the preceding action. These vary from simple Beet Soup to Caviar Torte to Shrimp Yiouvetsi as the action moves from Moscow to Helsinki, Washington, Rome, Athens and a climax at the Narva River. 

A spy thriller with believable characters and tense situations, blended with a tempting cookbook; an original concept, and a very good read. 

The Germans would have found him shuldhaft, culpable, and given him three years. The Americans would have pegged the poor sap a victim of sexpionage and sentenced him to eight years. In Russia the predatel, the traitor, would have been liquidated. French investigators handed down a stern finding of negligent. Delon was transferred home quickly-out of reach-consigened to duties without access to classified documents for eighteen months. 

A beautiful woman, quoi faire? What could you do?      

51wV+VzQqbL._February 1987. Filippo a petty criminal escapes along with his cellmate Carlo, a Red Brigade activist, from an Italian prison through the rubbish shute. They separate when Carlo goes off with some associates, and as Filippo makes his way north he reads in a newspaper that Carlo has been killed during an attempted bank robbery in Milan.

Fillipo goes to Paris where he meets up with Lisa Biaggi, Carlo’s girlfriend, whose address he has been given. Fillipo is given an apartment to rent owned by Lisa’s friend Cristina, and he gets a job as a night security guard. 

The time for tears is over. He dreams of conquering the two women, the way you conquer a land, for the pleasure of conquering, and then leaving for pastures new.

Fillipo partly to impress these two women, who respect politicos like Carlo, but look down their pretty noses at him, writes a novel inspired by the words and stories related by Carlo, while they were in prison. The narrative tells the story of the jail break, but he embellishes the subsequent events giving his character a key part in the bank robbery. The novel is a stunning success, and while Lisa rages at the situation trying to prove Carlo was lead into a trap, Filippo becomes the darling of the Italian diaspora and the intellectual elite in Paris. But he is in danger because the police, the security services and even his publishers begin to believe his mostly fictional novel is a true account of events.

Like most of Dominique Manotti’s books Escape is short, 160 pages, hard hitting and very thought provoking.  I would suggest that the gulf between the intellectual activists and the real working class is sharply drawn in this story. Most revolutionary movements are started by red wine radicals, and France and Italy are no different. Real working people are usually too busy.

Escape is an original novel about the dangers of writing a novel, and while not Manotti’s best work certainly well worth the read. You will learn something about the terrible traumas Italy suffered during the ‘Years of Lead’ as the Red Brigades, Fascists and Mafias battled for control of the country.

Filippo is ashen, he feels mounting panic. He stares at the floor. Adele continues undaunted: ‘Let me be clear. If you’re possibly a cop-killer, that makes you an attractive young hoodlum. But if you are a declared cop-killer and proud of it, then you become a criminal no one wants to be associated with. It’s a delicate balance.    

51BCw8MGoXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The Secret of Annexe 3 published in 1983 is the seventh book in the thirteen book series featuring Inspector Morse  authored by Colin Dexter, a P1050117former Classics teacher.

If you once understand an author’s character, the comprehension of his writing becomes easy. ( Longfellow ) 

 

Many people are surprised that there are only thirteen novels in the series because Morse [played so superbly by the late John Thaw]and his trusty subordinate Lewis [Kevin Whately] have seemingly been on our TV screens for ever. Thirty three episodes of Morse, were followed after Morse’s and John Thaw’s tragically early deaths by thirty episodes of the popular spin off series Lewis with Kevin Whately joined by Laurence Fox as DS James Hathaway, and later a prequel series Endeavour set in the 1960s with Shaun Evans as the young DC Morse. 

But to me the most surprising and amusing fact about Colin Dexter is that the author, whose detective novels are set in Oxford, and whose detective will be inexorably linked with that city read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge. 

Colin Dexter, now 83, has won two Silver Daggers and two Gold Daggers, and a Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime achievement so I won’t impertinently classify my post as a P1050110review. But  I’ll make just a few comments about the book, and the thought that it would probably be a good series to read in order.

I could have subtitled this post epigraphs and episodes, because each of the forty four chapters is introduced by an epigraph. The reader knows he is in the hands of an intelligent writer, who by changing perspective between the various characters is able to give a slightly different twist on the standard police procedural. 

When Thomas Bowman discovers a letter that proves that his wife Margaret has been unfaithful the scene is set for a series of events centering around festivities at the Haworth Hotel, where after  a fancy dress party a body is discovered in Annexe 3. The relationship between Morse and Lewis is definitely the best aspect of the books and it never fails to amuse.

‘ I know the place, Lewis. And so should you! It’s the street where Jude and Sue Fawley lived!

“Should I know them?’

‘In Jude the Obscure, Lewis! And “Aldbrickham” is Hardy’s name for Reading, as you’ll remember.’ ‘

Yes, I’d forgotten for the moment,’ said Lewis.

Most of the elements of a good police procedural are in The Secret of Annexe 3; great detectives, love affairs, lust, jealousy, the teasing problem of whether to dispose of your husband or your lover, disguises, muddled identities and some rather sad lives. While I don’t think this is Dexter’s best work it was a pleasant holiday read in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, and the epigraphs were a stimulating read. 

Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave. ( Song of Solomon viii,6 )

[ Photos show the 14th century Great Coxwell Barn in Oxfordshire, somewhere I am sure Inspector Morse would have visited on a rare day off. Epigraphs from the Song of Solomon and Longfellow are in the book along with forty two more.]      

51BCw8MGoXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_It has been a few weeks since I last posted due to another mini holiday break and some minor health problems.P1050107

I am a great believer that reading books or listening to music in the correct location puts you in the right mood to enjoy the experience.

I remember back in 1993 rushing into a book shop in Occoquan VA to purchase In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke [and other books] as we drove to the Jefferson Davis Highway [Is that Highway One still named for the Confederate President?] and travelled south to Fredericksburg avoiding the busy Interstate 95. A couple of years before we had listened to Sibelius in Alvar Aalto’s beautiful Finlandia Hall in Helsinki with it -15 outside and thick snow, it wouldn’t have sounded as good in the Royal Festival Hall in London on a summer day. 

P1050055I had struggled with the Arctic setting of Olivier Truc’s Forty Days Without Shadow  during a warm spell, and I decided that although the current book I was reading was brilliant [more on that later] it was a 600 page hardback doorstop, and I was not going to carry it to Wiltshire and Oxfordshire. There was an obvious solution I took a shortish 301 page Colin Dexter, The Secret of Annexe 3, and although it is set in a snowy Oxford at New Year, the quintessential dated English setting meant I was in the mood and whizzed through this one, returning home a few days later to lap up the hardback.