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. 

51U8X7q1IhL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I suppose after reading a lot of books by Fred Vargas I should be used to that very Gallic quirky crime fiction of which The Cemetery of Swallows is a good example.

The multitalented author Jean-Denis Bruel-Ferreol writes under the pseudonym Mallock, and his detective is Superintendent Amedee Mallock, a tactic that throws the reader slightly off balance. I assume this is the first book in a series to be translated into English, because we are told in the narrative about the police superintendent’s detective team operating from “Fort Mallock”, and Amedee’s personal tragic loss of his wife and son, Thomas. 

Mallock is sent to the Dominican Republic to bring back to France to face trial Manuel Gemoni, the brother of police Captain Julie Gemoni one of his detectives. One morning the mild mannered Manuel after viewing a documentary video travels to the Dominican Republic, and kills an old man who he has never met.

Mallock discovers that the old man Manuel killed was Tobias Darbier, a man who inspired fear and loathing. A man with a past full of violence and terror.

“His story [Darbier's] is the same as the island’s. he arrived in 1946 and spent the first three years working for the dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.”

He ruled by terror, torture, and political assassination.

The Cemetery of Swallows is not a “who did it mystery”, but a “why did he do it enigma”. As the story moves from the jungles, mountains, trigger happy gunmen and voodoo of the Caribbean island to the frozen streets of Paris Mallock tries to connect a story of terrible Nazi atrocities that occurred before Manuel was born, but of which he has detailed knowledge, to the killing of Darbier. 

The book is well written with interesting characters, and a clever but predictable plot in which clues are presented to  the detectives, but ignored as more bizarre explanations are pursued. I should warn that when authors write about men like Darbier, Trujillo and the Nazis you have to be prepared for descriptions of extreme violence, and the tactics of terror, but nothing more than we can read in our newspapers every day.  

Mallock, the author, provides his readers with little snippets of wisdom, in a very dark story.

Master Long is not at ease in France. He always resented Western intellectuals, Sartre and his dirty hands and his pathetic imitators gulping down champagne when the Khmer Rouge entered Hanoi. Lenin, Mao, Stalin: the radiant “past” of communism consisted of at least a hundred million dead.

But this is a French crime story set partially in Paris so we also see a different side of  Amedee Mallock.

Around 7 P.M., Amedee decided to prepare his bass.

He cleaned the fish and filled it with sprigs of fennel, peppercorns and salt before frying it on bothsides. Then he wrapped it in foil and let it cook while he opened a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. After taking off its aluminium carapace, he sprinkled the fish with a mixture of vinegar, finely sliced papper, olive oil and sea salt.     

I can recommend The Cemetery of Swallows if you want a crime fiction book that is original, and gripped this reader from the first page.    

The photos I posted yesterday tell the story of both a lost generation and a lost way of life. We are very lucky that the National Trust can preserve the houses, gardens and the stories behind some of the sites for future generations. 

From the top left going clockwise the photos are: 

The pond in the garden of Batemans, the house of Rudyard Kipling; Smallhythe Place, home of actress Ellen Terry; the lawn at Batemans;  Batemans, a view of the house; Igtham Mote, locals tell me it is pronounced Eye Tam; View of the house from the white garden at Sissinghurst, home of Vita Sackville -West and Harold Nicholson; A Bentley in the streets of Rye, where a new version of E.L.Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books [1920-1939] are being filmed; Sweet peas at Igtham Mote.

Our visit to Batemans was a moving experience, Rudyard Kipling, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1907, may be considered controversial today, but he was a patriot when patriotism was considered a virtue.

In 2007 the film My Boy Jack starring David Haigh as the author and Daniel Radcliffe as John Kipling told the story of how Kipling obtained a commission in the Irish Guards for his only son, and how Jack was killed in the disastrous Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. On that same day Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon of the Black Watch was also killed in action, he was the older brother of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen and mother of our present Queen Elizabeth. Exactly three years later my own uncle was killed serving with the Royal West Kents in the assault on the Hindenburg Line.

The wife of Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s three great uncles were all killed on the Western Front between September 1916 and March 1918, and the Prime Minister Henry Asquith’s eldest son Raymond was killed on the Somme. Although I very much doubt it was much of a consolation to my mother, whose eldest brother was killed, or my mother- in- law, whose father was killed, the nation was seemingly “all in it together” during those terrible years. 

Later when we visited Igtham Mote, they had a recording playing of Ralph Fiennes, I think, reading the war poetry by Wilfred Owen, alongside a book containing photographs showing the Royal West Kents in training before going off to France. The owner of Igtham at the time Sir Thomas Colyer -Fergusson’s son Captain Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson aged 21 won a posthumous Victoria Cross in 1917 at the Third Battle of Ypres. 

So much of what those brave men fought and died for has gone, destroyed by lack of thought or neglect that it is very pleasant to wander through the homes of the wealthy elite of a century ago, and realise that for all their many faults they were prepared to make sacrifices for their country.     

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute,

With sixty second’s worth of distance run,

Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,

And -which is more- you’ll be a Man, my son!

From If… by Rudyard Kipling [1910]   

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The CWA Dagger Winners

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

51MIKOBq3-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_41TlN21iRlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_the-siege-172x276Simon Brett.2

The Rap Sheet has a comprehensive roundup of the CWA Daggers  awarded yesterday.

Congratulations to all the winners especially Diamond Dagger recipient Simon Brett, yet another fine writer to have attended Dulwich College. 

 Endeavour Historical Dagger: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

International Dagger: The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Non-Fiction Dagger: The Siege, Three Days of Terror inside the Taj by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clarke

Diamond Dagger: Simon Brett   

 

 

51eK2UHfulL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_We have been away for a week touring the beautiful houses and countryside of Kent and East Sussex in wonderful summer weather [possibly some 09-22-~1 (2)photos later] so that I have only just finished the Arctic set Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc. 

Olivier Truc was born in France but has worked as a journalist based in Stockholm since 1994. He has produced television documentaries including one about the work of the Norwegian Reindeer Police in Lapland. Forty Days, his debut novel draws on that documentary and blends in his journalistic interest concerning social issues such as the treatment of minorities.

The story begins with a short prologue set in Central Lapland in the year 1693, showing the persecution of the Sami by Christian pastors. The reader is taken forward to the present day in January when the polar night will end and the sun will return. At Kautokeino in Norway we are introduced to the main protagonists who are two members of the Reindeer Police. Klemet Nango, a veteran Sami officer, who at one time was working in Stockholm on the Olaf Palme investigation; and the young blonde stunningly beautiful Nina Nansen, a new recruit. They have to investigate the theft of a sacred Sami drum from a local museum, apparently one of only a limited number to survive the drum burning carried out by Christian pastors in a campaign against Sami religion and culture. As they investigate the theft and question reindeer breeders in the harsh Arctic environment Nina moves into unknown territory.

How could people live like this here in Norway, in her own country? The scene reminded her of a TV documentary she had seen once, about a Roma encampment in Romania.

When Mattis one the reindeer breeders is murdered the investigation becomes far more complex. With a UN conference being held shortly in Kautokeino the mismatched pair of police officers must look into a 1939 expedition that included anthropologists from Sweden’s State Institute for Racial Biology, hunt down the Sami drum, and search for Andre Racagnal, a villainous French geologist with a liking for adolescent girls. Racagnal is plotting with local figures to exploit the mineral wealth of the region. When Nina travels to Paris to interview Henri Mons, who donated the Sami drum to the museum and was on the 1939, she learns some shocking facts as she studies photos taken by the Swedish anthropologists.

It did not take Nina long to realise that they were clearly intended to illustrate the racial superiority of the Scandinavians, and the inferiority of not only the Sami, but also the Tartars, Jews, Finns, Balts and Russians.

Forty Days is an excellent read, rather dark and perhaps a little longwinded at times as Klemet and Nina travel hundreds of kilometres back and forth across the Arctic wastelands on their snowmobiles, but it would certainly be a worthy winner of the CWA International Dagger.

The characters are interesting, while the information about Sami culture and the problems that affect their society reminded me of Tony Hillerman’s wonderful books about the Navajo. And I took one of the messages of the book to be that indigenous peoples in many many countries are exploited, and their way of life and their culture threatened in some way by incomers. 

‘The Swedes recruited the Sami by force,’ Nils Ante went on, ‘to work in the mines. And they used reindeer to transport the ores to the rivers. There’s your story. Any Sami who refused was beaten and imprisoned.

Behold the foundations of the wealth of your splendid Nordic kingdoms.   

[the photo shows the nearest we have been to the Arctic...having left the train somewhere north of Helsinki into the freezing wilderness]

Invitation_MarcDugain51zVCIgQ9bL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_This is just the sort of event that makes me wish we still lived in London.  

At one of the panels I attended during Crime Fest 2012 it was suggested by a panellist that when the Scandinavian crime fever had blown over French detective fiction would be the next trend. Perhaps the trend is already here as Fred Vargas, Dominique Manotti and now Pierre LeMaitre have been getting the attention of CWA judges for several years….. now we have Phillipe Georget, Olivier Truc and Marc Dugain making waves. 

The French are coming and this is obviously an event not to be missed.