cc2zagrebricciardiarmsMy reading in February included A Colder War by Charles Cumming, a very good spy thriller, and The Lady From Zagreb, the tenth book in the Bernie Gunther series. My review of Philip Kerr’s  novel will appear on Euro Crime in due course. I also got about halfway through the excellent Viper by Maurizio De Giovanni, but we were going away for a few days and Viper’s cover includes an image of a dead prostitute sprawled over a bed.

I therefore decided to take  Arms and The Women [2000] by Reginald Hill to read at our luxurious bed and breakfast. This is a 611 page reg hillblockbuster, but a brilliant read, and I am now totally engrossed at page 237 by those quirky characters, Ellie Pascoe, Peter Pascoe, Andy Dalziel, Wieldy and Novello.

My reading over the last few years of Reginald Hill’s body of work has convinced me he is one of the greatest crime writers produced by this country since the war. I wonder if the failings of the later Dalziel and Pascoe television series have contributed to him not being rated as highly in some circles as some less deserving writers. That pesky WH Smith poll still really annoys me; Peter James 1, Val McDermid 3, Ian Rankin 4, Ruth Rendell 13, P.D.James 18, and Reginald Hill 48! 

Unfortunately once the television series lost Edgar Wield and Ellie Pascoe it never had that special quality retained in the novels. 

I haven’t read the Dalziel and Pascoe books in order, but when I started in 2010 to read them again after a long break I began with the  last in the series Midnight Fugue [2009], a pastiche of the TV series 24. In 2012 I read On Beulah Height [1998] and then went back to Deadheads [1983] and Underworld [1988]. I had a Dalziel and Pascoe addiction by now, and they became my holiday reading material of choice. In 2013 I read Bones and Silence [1990], Recalled to Life [1992], Pictures of Perfection [1994] , and The Wood Beyond [1995]. Last year I jumped forward, perhaps put off a little by the sheer bulk of some of the next books in the series, to The Death of Dalziel [2007] and A Cure for All Diseases [2008], a pastiche of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon. Reginald Hill did love his Jane Austen.

You would think you might become bored reading so many books by the same author with the same characters, but Reginald Hill alters his approach to each novel keep each book fresh, vital and full of humour. 

I will return to Viper, which is also a very good read, when I have finished Arms and the Women.  

P1020051I have always considered crime fiction awards and polls very useful for introducing readers to writers and books that they haven’t read.  Even if one doesn’t agree with the choices made by the judges, or general public, the results are usually quite fun. But they do have to adhere to certain basic standards like sanity. If we judge the best crime writers simply on all time sales there is obviously only one winner with Agatha Christie a long way ahead of the number two, and James Patterson back in third place.

Do you know who number two is? 

WH Smith has a list 107 crime fiction authors in order of merit, and I do worry about my ageing eyesight, because I cannot see Colin Dexter’s name anywhere. Some of the voting was quite astonishing with S.J.Watson, who up to date has only published one book, at 65 ahead of Stieg Larsson 68, Lindsey Davis 69, Elizabeth  George 70. That one book may be very very good, but surely S.J. has to produce more than one book to merit a position among the best crime writers of all time.

Television exposure does not seemed to have helped some fine authors with Ann Cleeves at 90, Ellis Peters at 89, Andrea Camilleri at P102004884. I am ashamed to find that I haven’t even read any of the books by the numero uno on the list, Peter James. His detective Roy Grace works in Brighton, a town I used to know very well, as three of my mother’s sisters lived in Hove, the adjoining seaside resort. I will have to remedy my omission as “he won the crown effortlessly by an incredible number of votes.”

He must be very good to streak ahead of  Agatha Christie at 5, Raymond Chandler at 47, Michael Connelly at 32, Reginald Hill at 48, and Patricia Highsmith at 52. I would suggest that if the poll had asked readers to name their “favourite” five crime fiction authors it might have produced a more interesting result. 

By the way the number two  all time best selling crime fiction author was Georges Simenon. 


Well for once the postie didn’t ring our bell today. He probably thought his delivery time was too early in the morning for retired old age pensioners, but he did leave two very nice parcels on our doorstep. 

cc2Well timed as I had just finished this morning reading A Colder War by Charles Cumming. I had made slower progress with this exciting spy drama, number two in the series featuring disgraced agent Thomas Kell and his former boss the glamorous Amelia Levene, simply because of the wonderful early spring weather we have been having on the English

When MI6’s top man in Turkey is killed in a plane crash Kell is called back again to track down a possible mole. After a suitably slow start, with Kell mixing work and pleasure [no spoilers], the action and the trade craft becomes fast and furious as Kell journeys from Ankara, and Istanbul, to London and Odessa to track down the mole. An excellent read with an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series. I am usually not keen on endings that leave the reader wondering what happens next, but this is cleverly done and probably more authentic than a nice cosy finish. My copy had bonus content including the author’s interesting essay on The Changing Face of Spy Fiction, making A Colder War a very good read. 

But what was in those two parcels?

ricciardizagrebIn the first was thanks to Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions a copy of Maurizio De Giovanni’s new Commissario Ricciardi novel Viper. I have read and reviewed the first three books in this fine series, but the next two sit unread on my shelf. But I have now promised myself that I will read Viper first, and catch up with the others at a later date.

Karen from Euro Crime knowing that I have read all of the previous nine Bernie Gunther thrillers very kindly arranged for the folks at Quercus to send me an uncorrected proof of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr, the tenth book in the series. 

Now I don’t mind if it rains, my reading for the rest of February is planned out.   

17-john-le-carre-books-blog480As I commented earlier as I am reading some hefty non-crime fiction books alongside my usual crime fiction diet I will only be making the briefest comments on the books I read, unless there is something particularly interesting to note.

Since my last review I have read:

Entry Island: Peter May:- Neither of the two plot strands in this long book were particularly original, but the descriptive writing was excellent. The historical back story set in 19th century Scotland was exceptionally good, and a little bit superior to the modern day story set on Entry Island off the coast of Canada. 

Duet in Beirut: Mishka Ben-David translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg:- After a failed mission in Beirut agent Ronen is dismissed from Mossad, and when his former commander Gadi discovers he has gone to Beirut to redeem himself he follows to prevent another disaster. There is some discussion about the morality of targeted assassinations that inevitably lead to tit-for-tat killings, and a lot about the interpersonal relationships between the characters, a situation that is complicated by Ronen’s wife having been Gadi’s lover in the past. A good read with much more about planning an operation rather than the actual action.

The Golden Egg: Donna Leon:- The Guido Brunetti books are usually enjoyable, and his close family life with Paola and the children make such a interesting contrast to that of so many other detectives. But this was such a miserable slow paced story that even a devoted Donna Leon fan was struggling at times. 

From Eden To Exile: Eric H. Cline:- The author discusses the archaeological evidence that might explain some biblical mysteries. An interesting read although no easy answers were found.

This Dark Road To Mercy: Wiley Cash:- A gripping story told from several perspectives set mostly in the author’s home state of North Carolina. This book deservedly won the 2014 CWA Gold Dagger.

A Mad Catastrophe: Geoffrey Wawro:- One of many books published in 2014 on the centenary  of the outbreak of the Great War. This long book deals with the disastrous conduct of the war by Austria-Hungary in 1914 on both the Serbian and Russian Fronts. Full of unpleasant details of ludicrous offensives that lead to horrendous losses, and the ultimate fall of the Hapsburg and Romanov dynasties. With a few exceptions most Great War Generals seem to have been out horse riding, playing polo, or chasing women when their military schools covered the tactical lessons of the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and the Russo-Japanese War. The Great War was a dreadful tragedy that cast a long dark shadow over the last century, and we are still living with the results today.

I also tackled two very different spy thrillers A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre, and A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming [winner of the 2012 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger] which was my favourite read in January. The contrast between these books was fascinating, and in some ways surprising as the veteran was surpassed by the comparative newcomer.

I haven’t read John le Carre since The Looking Glass War [1964] back in 2010, a novel nowhere near as good as the Karla trilogy, or Theforeign country Constant Gardener. Since then I have re-watched the TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and seen the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman, and am now watching the TV version of Smiley’s People with the brilliant Alec Guinness. The amusing thing about The Looking Glass War was that the three sections were introduced by quotations from Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan and Rupert Brooke,  a choice hardly representative of  le Carre’s political stance today.

The problem with A Wanted Man is that the narrative is so turgid, and lacks the subtlety of the Karla trilogy and many of the earlier books. I read a ranking of le Carre’s novels somewhere on the internet that puts A Most Wanted Man at 20 out of 22.

I think this book could have been so much better. The author hints that the “most wanted man” Issa Karpov, a Chechen who has been tortured by the Russians,  might not be everything he seems, and there might be a clever twist to the story; but unfortunately there isn’t and the ending is both predictable, and abrupt. What was most disappointing was that most of the characters seemed more like walking political statements than real human beings. I will be extremely interested to see what the movie starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as German intelligence agent Gunther Bachman makes of the book. 

Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country also begins slowly, but it has plenty of trade craft and action as it follows disgraced agent Thomas Kell as he attempts to track down the missing newly appointed head of MI6, Amelia Levene. This is more nuanced novel with some intriguing little twists in the plot, and a very exciting ending. This was a book  that definitely deserved the award of the 2012 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. I enjoyed it so much that I am now reading the sequel A Colder War, which also features Thomas Kell.   

You can find my Favourite Discovery of 2014, along with some excellent choices by other Euro Crime reviewers over at Karen’s encyclopaedic Euro Crime website.

The year 2015 on TV has opened with a bang with the new series of the very gritty French crime drama Spiral. Great moments in past series have included the wonderfully evil line. 

Ms Karlsson if you work for me you must love money and money alone. 

And the scene where police Captain Laure Berthaud [Caroline Proust], the sexy antithesis of the well groomed French woman, pours a quantity of liquid over a suspect and stands near him waving around a cigarette lighter. I can’t see that interrogation method meeting the PACE Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 code of practice.      

The remaining answers to the Quirky Quiz:

6] How did a bleeding ulcer and a broken leg connect Christina Collins and Edward V?

This referred to books that exhibited a great blend of history and detective fiction. Inspector Grant is in hospital with a broken leg in Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time in which he questions whether Richard III murdered the princes in the tower, his nephews. 

In Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead Inspector Morse is in hospital with a bleeding ulcer. Morse with his alcoholic intake is a real candidate for an ulcer. He investigates the 1859 murder of Christina Collins, and retrospectively proves the convicted murderers innocent of the crime.

7] Who noted a lack of any ornithological reference in the Memoirs of the Verney family?

Ornithology is the study of birds, and what is the most famous bird in crime fiction?

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett’s 1930 novel which was made into such a superb movie in 1941. The movie directed by John Huston starred Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, but it had surely one of the great suporting casts with Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo and Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman “the Fat Man”. 

It is Gutman, who recounting the story of the falcon to Sam Spade, says ” There’s nothing said about the bird in Lady Frances Verney’s Memoirs of Verney Family during the Seventeeth Century, to be sure. I looked.”

8] Name a crime fiction author who has worked as:

[a] an osteopath- Caro Ramsay

[b] a forensic anthropologist- Kathy Reich

[c] an eukaryotic archaeologist- Fred Vargas

[d] an architect-S.J.Rozan

9] Identify the people in these photos.


Asa Larsson





Aly Monroe





Jack Whicher




10] Andy Dalziel likes choosing nicknames for his colleagues, for example Shirley Novello naturally becomes “Ivor” after the actor and composer Ivor Novello.

How and why did Andy’s choice of nickname for Sergeant Whitby link an unfinished 1817 novel with a epistolary novel of 1897?

Reginald Hill and Andy Dalziel at their  most erudite, in the novel A Cure for All Diseases which is a homage to Jane Austen’s 1817 unfinished novel Sanditon updated to the age of emails and digital recorders. The epistolary novel of 1897 is Dracula, who arrives in England at Whitby, so Sergeant Whitby reminds Andy of Dracula so he becomes “Jug” for the jugular vein beloved by Dracula. 

I think that question was a real tester, sorry, but if you had read A Cure for All Diseases it was the sort of information that stuck.    

The winner of the quiz from British Columbia got all the questions correct except for the photos, and he even got one of those right so this quiz was not impossibly indecipherable. 

1] By what names are the following better known?

[a] Salvatore Albert Lombino- Ed McBain

[b] Elizabeth Mackintosh- Josephime Tey

[c] Daniel Nathan- Frederic Dannay [half of Ellery Queen]

[d] Juliet Marion Hulme- Anne Perry

[e] Willard Huntington Wright- S.S.Van Dine

[f] Edith May Pargeter- Ellis Peters

[g] Janet Quin-Harkin- Rhys Bowen

2] Who was “the man who could see round corners”?

Lars Martin Johansson in Leif G.W.Persson’s trilogy about the murder of Olaf Palme, or John Dee in Philippa Gregory’s Elizabethan crime novels. 

3] Which detective found his perfect life partner in Enscombe? 

If you remembered that Reginald Hill was one of my favourite crime writers, and know your Jane Austen you would have had no trouble with this question. ;-)

A “perfect” life partner in the village of Enscombe features in “Pictures of Perfection” Reginald Hill’s 1994 Austen pastiche in which Edgar Wield, the gay sergeant in the Dalziel and Pascoe novels met Edwin Digwood.


4] Who cinematically linked a Hungarian born member of the Detection Club, with an aircraft, and a city chronologically between Barcelona and Sydney?

I am going to explain this in detail so you can see how the straightforward answer can be worked out from the complex question.

Cinematically linked-so we are looking at a movie link. A Hungarian born member of the Detection Club, well the only one is Baroness Orczy, author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. The movie of that name starred  British actor Leslie Howerd as Sir Percy Blakeney. Does that link in with the rest of the question?

A plane, well Leslie Howerd played the part of R.J.Mitchell in the movie First of the Few [Spitfire in the USA] and was in real life shot down by the Nazis while flying to Portugal in 1943.

The city chronologically between Barcelona [1992] and Sydney [2000] was of course Atlanta, which hosted the Olympics in 1996 [easier with the relevant dates there to be seen]. Leslie Howerd starred as Ashley Wilkes in the Civil War epic Gone With The Wind set around the fall of Atlanta to the William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union Army in 1864. 

5] Who were married to: 

[a]Heloise Plisson-Tom Ripley

[b]Mary Marstan- Dr John Watson

[c]Thomas Samuelsson- Annika Bengtzon

[d] Dulcie Duveen?- Captain Arthur Hastings

[to be continued]

Favourite Reads of 2014

Posted: January 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

You can see my selection of my favourite reads of 2014 over at Euro Crime.

I read less than forty crime fiction books, but managed to read some heavyweight long non-fiction books about real crimes. Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, Fascist Voices by Christopher Duggan, and 1177BC, The Year Civilisation Collapsed by Eric Cline. I can recommend all four, but Bloodlands and Iron Curtain are particularly testing reads because of the harrowing content.

I have been blogging about crime fiction for over 8 years, and during that time have built up a large backlog of unread history and political books. In 2015 I intend to catch up with this mountain of books, and this will necessarily mean less blog reviews. 

But I will blog about the CWA International Dagger, Historical Dagger and of course the Petrona shortlists when they are announced.

I suspect that after a couple of non fiction tomes I will return to some crime fiction for relaxation. The name of the winner of the Winter Quiz and the important answers will be published over the next couple of weeks. The deadline for your entries is 11 January and they should be sent to    

A Mid Winter Quiz

Posted: December 21, 2014 in Quiz, Uncategorized

I haven’t posted one of my quirky quizzes for some time, probably because my old brain box has been creaking lately.

But knowing that this holiday period will last two weeks in the UK, and that readers might need some mental stimulation after friendly discussions with relatives and their third helping of turkey, I have therefore produced this effort for your amusement.

The prize is a copy of The Poisoned Chocolate Case by Anthony Berkeley, and all answers should be sent to by midnight GMT on Sunday 11 January 2015. 

Good Luck!

1] Try this one without wikipedia. ;-)

By what names are the following better known? [a] Salvatore Albert Lombino [b] Elizabeth Mackintosh [c] Daniel Nathan [d] Juliet Marion Hulme [e] Willard Huntington Wright [f] Edith May Pargeter [g] Janet Quin-Harkin

2] Who was “the man who could see round corners”?

3] Which detective found his perfect life partner in Enscombe?

4] Who cinematically linked a Hungarian born member of the Detection Club, with an aircraft, and a city chronologically between Barcelona and Sydney?

5] Who were married to [a]Heloise Plisson [b]Mary Marstan [c]Thomas Samuelsson [d] Dulcie Duveen?

6] How did a bleeding ulcer and a broken leg connect Christina Collins and Edward V?

7] Who noted a lack of any ornithological reference in the Memoirs of the Verney family?

8] Name a crime fiction author who has worked as [a] an osteopath [b] a forensic anthropologist [c] an eukaryotic archaeologist [d]  an architect

9] Identify the people in these photos.











10] Andy Dalziel likes choosing nicknames for his colleagues, for example Shirley Novello naturally becomes “Ivor” after the actor and composer Ivor Novello.

How and why did Andy’s choice of nickname for Sergeant Whitby link an unfinished 1817 novel with a epistolary novel of 1897? 

Anne Holt Lions MouthWhen Norwegian Prime Minister Birgitte Volter is found slumped across her desk shot dead, the investigators are faced with a variation on a ‘locked room mystery’, and the question whether the shooting is politically motivated, or relates to a personal matter in Birgitte’s background.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is in the USA living with her partner Cecilie, and only returns to assist lead investigator Billy T part way through the book.

Three factors make this book, with its neat blend of police work, political intrigue and social commentary a good read.

Firstly it was published in 1997 eleven years after the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, when a supposed Kurdish connection hampered a proper investigation. The utopian view of the Scandinavian democracies had been brought shudderingly into the real world by this event.

Secondly the book deals with a possible neo-Nazi plot to murder leading figures in Norway fourteen years before the country was shocked by Anders Breivik’s massacre of young people perpetrated on Utoya Island.

Thirdly it was jointly written with Berit Reiss-Andersen*, a Norwegian lawyer and member of the Nobel Committee, and state secretary to the Minister of Justice and Police when Anne Holt briefly held that government post. Therefore the details of the political background and infighting between the characters have a ring of authenticity.

The reader learns about Birgitte, her family, husband Roy Hansen, and son Per, and her swift rise to power. Her childhood friend Supreme Court judge Benjamin Grinde, chair of a commission looking into a spike in deaths of young babies back in 1965, comes under suspicion as the last person to visit Birgitte in her office. And while most of the politicians and journalists in the book are fairly unlikeable Benjamin’s mother Birdie is probably the most unpleasant character, although Health Minister Ruth-Dorthe Nordgarden runs her pretty close. 

He [Tryggve Storstein, the new Prime Minister] had crushed her. It astonished him that he did not feel even a scintilla of regret or sorrow. When he took stock, he realized he felt pity for her, but that was all. Someone should have destroyed her long ago. 

1997 was an interesting year, because although it is clear that Anne Holt may not think that highly of her political colleagues, we in the UK naively believed in the newly elected Labour Government. Some of us actually celebrated the result of that election.

There have been two great political rivalries in British history. In the Nineteenth Century that between Tory Benjamin Disraeli and Liberal William Gladstone, and in recent times that between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The only problem was that Blair and Brown were supposed to be in the same political party. The populace awoke from a thirteen year long nightmare to discover the country was virtually bankrupt, and after a new election we were now ruled by a different bunch of incompetents.

What happened to an “end to boom and bust” and the “golden age of banking”?

But I digress Anne Holt sums up the state of most Western democratic systems quite succinctly in The Lion’s Mouth in a passage that bears a strong resemblance to the situation in the UK as the powers that be search for someone to chair a commission on child sex abuse.

“This kind of thing has become worryingly common in our society,” Professor Brynjestad continues.

“Namely, that members of the social elite increasingly have links to one another, allowing them to operate beyond the usual boundaries and without being accountable to ordinary citizens. We end up with an invisible network of power we cannot control.” 

My reviews of the first three Hanne Wilhelmsen books:

The Blind Goddess

Blessed Are Those That Thirst

Death of the Demon       

Anne Holt Lions Moutha