I am about half way through A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas, and it is nice to be back reading one of my favourite crime writers. Of course Vargas has won the CWA International Dagger four times, and it would not surprise me if this latest novel wins again. A complex plot which features a ten year old trip to Iceland in which a crazed killer murdered two tourists, and then terrified the rest of the tour party into silence, is followed by killings in modern day France and an extraordinary society dedicated to the study of the writings of Maximillien Robespierre. 

If this quirky Gallic plot is not enough for the reader we are reintroduced to Commissaire Adamsberg and his eccentric team of detectives. 

Mercadet’s asleep, said Estalere, counting on his fingers, ‘Danglard’s having a drink, Retancourt’s feeding the cat, Froissy’s watching her screen. But what about the rest of us. 

Danglard, Adamsberg’s right hand man is probably the most interesting of these characters. His phenomenal memory and finely tuned brain thrives on a diet of white wine. But what can you say about the plots of the Vargas books…

‘De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace…..’

Anyone who hasn’t read Fred Vargas is in for a real treat.

Quiz Answers

Posted: February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

1] Which Presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy

2] Which Governor of two different states was also a President?

A bit of a trick question. Sam Houston was Governor of Tennessee 1827-1829, twice President of the Texas Republic 1836-1838,1841-1844 and Governor of Texas 1859-1861.

3] Which President was called “a majestic figure who stood like a rock of consistency” and it was said “May God ever give to our country leaders as faithful, as wise, as noble in spirit, as the one we now mourn.”

Warren G. Harding, which proves you should wait until there has been time to assess a President’s legacy before making a hasty judgement. 

4] What did Presidents 17, 21, 26, and 36 have in common?

They were Vice Presidents who succeeded assassinated Presidents. Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.  

 

5] What did Presidents 6, 17, 22, and 27 have in common?

They all lost the Presidency but went on to hold Federal office, John Quincy Adams, Representative for Massachusetts: Andrew Johnson, Senator for Tennessee: Grover Cleveland, elected as 24th President after a four year gap: William Howard Taft: Chief Justice of the USA

The Broker: John Grisham

Posted: January 31, 2017 in Uncategorized

I bought this 2005 book in a second hand book shop for 99p so I wasn’t too concerned that it turned out to be not Grisham’s best novel by a long distance. I admit to be interested by the first sentence: 

In the waning hours of a presidency that was destined to arouse less interest from historians than any other than any since that of William Henry Harrison [thirty one days from inauguration to death], Arthur Morgan huddled in the Oval Office with his last remaining friend and pondered his final decisions.

Not quite accurate as the 1840 election of William Henry Harrison still interests political historians as it was one of the first modern style campaigns. A great slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” [Harrison was the victor over the Shawnee at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, and Tyler was his Vice President] and a campaign logo of a Log Cabin, suggesting the untamed frontier, when in fact both Harrison and Tyler lived in Greek revival mansions. Enough history.

Arthur Morgan in his last moves pardons Joel Backman, serving 20 years in a Federal Penitentiary. Backman pleaded guilty to various charges involving the attempted sale of a computer program that can control a secret satellite system. When his business associate and the three young Pakistani scientists, who created the program are murdered, he feels he is safer in prison. The head of the CIA gets him pardoned and sent to Italy, when his location will be leaked and the CIA will observe who kills him the Chinese, Russians, Saudis or Israelis. Then the Americans will have an idea who created the satellite system.

Much of the book reads like an Italian lesson and travel guide to Bologna, but with not enough details about the food. It seems bizarre that so much time is devoted to teaching Joel aka Marco Italian when he is going to be set up to be murdered. But he has to be introduced to the beautiful enigmatic Francesca, who provides a platonic romantic  interest while she waits for her ailing husband to die.

Joel was a lobbyist and fixer and as such is more of an anti hero than a character I could have liked. 

The Broker is an easy to read, apart from the Italian lessons, airport thriller but I do prefer Grisham when he is writing about legal procedures in the USA . I also found it a bit unbelievable that Backman could outsmart the CIA, FBI, Chinese secret service, Russian intelligence and Mossad all at the same time, and get back to the USA unharmed with his computer disks. 

 

Favourite Discovery of 2016

Posted: January 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

You can read about my favourite discovery of 2016 at Eurocrime the Vera DVD boxed set. 

I see that Ann Cleeves has been awarded the Diamond Dagger. I did not have any inside information, but that award made my selection seem rather timely.

Well the day has almost arrived the Republican Party, the party of Presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, the party of such distinguished African Americans as Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condi Rice is now lead by Donald Trump. We certainly live in interesting times. 

But we Britons can’t scoff because the Labour party that was once lead by politicians such as Clem Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot, John Smith and Tony Blair [whatever happened to him] is now lead by Jeremy Corbyn.

American History has always fascinated me, one of my pleasant memories was when at Gettysburg National Park the official guide complemented me on my knowledge. That was nearly a quarter of a century ago and I have lost a few million brain cells since then, but I thought I would compose a short mini quiz for those of my American friends who don’t want to watch the ceremony. This might keep them occupied for a few minutes. No prizes, try and do it without google, good luck and send your answers to willtecumseh2003@gmail.com

1] Which Presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery? 

2] Which Governor of two different states was also a President?

3] Which President was called “a majestic figure who stood like a rock of consistency” and it was said “May God ever give to our country leaders as faithful, as wise, as noble in spirit, as the one we now mourn.”

4] What did Presidents 17, 21, 26, and 36 have in common?

5] What did Presidents 6, 17, 22, and 27 have in common?

 

 

 

It was by complete chance that the first book I read this year was The Zimmerman Telegram by Pulitzer Prize winning author Barbara Tuchman. My son had bought me a copy and although I had read it about forty years ago I thought it was appropriate to re-read it again. 

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the day the coded telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the Imperial Ambassador to the USA Count von Bernstoff arrived at Room 40 in Whitehall. 

This superb non fiction book reads like a modern spy novel, and many of the themes seem curiously similar to modern developing situations.  An American President struggling to deal with Mexico, the British Secret Service sending documents to the Americans some of whom believed them to be forged, “fake news”.

In this case actually Zimmerman acknowledged the telegram was genuine and the words: we make Mexico a proposal of an alliance on the following basis: make war together; make peace together, generous financial support, and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to conquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona……

This telegram was instrumental along with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare in bringing the USA into the Great War on the side of the Allies. As with a good novel this book has a cast of fascinating characters, among whom were, Woodrow Wilson, a President determined to confer democracy on Mexicans ready or not; von Bernstoff the Ambassador who struggled to keep the Americans out of the war, a man who had the good sense to leave Germany the moment Hitler came to power, the shrewd Franz von Papen, who served the monarchy, the Weimar Republic and the Nazis and managed to survive into old age; Mexicans President Carranza and his opponents Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa, as well as the charismatic Admiral Sir William Reginald Hall, the Director of British Naval Intelligence, and many more. 

Two hundred pages full of history, intrigue and perhaps some lessons for our current leaders, a highly recommended book.

 

 

 

The Return of Crimescraps

Posted: January 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

It has been many months since I last blogged [May 2016] because of serious health problems, and although I never fell off the Reichenbach Falls it has at times felt like it.

But now after my brilliant surgeon and his team performed a robot assisted operation, I am enjoying every day as a bonus, even when the weather is as dismal as it is today. I feel obliged to try to live a few more years in view of the enormous amount of time and money the National Health Service, and the wonderful people who work at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital have devoted to my care. Never has a hospital and its staff been more deserving of the title “Royal”.  My energy and concentration levels are still very low so my blogs will be briefer and less frequent, but I am going to try to make a bit of a come back.

 My choices of my best reads of 2016, can be viewed at Karen’s Eurocrime. Karen was kind enough to include me among her reviewers even though I haven’t contributed anything for a long time.

 

UntitledWhen analysing crime fiction I usually consider ten very simple factors. 

1] Is the plot exciting, believable and gripping?

2] Do I like and care about any of the characters?

3] Is it written in an easy to read style which is decipherable to an ordinary reader?

4] Does it have the correct atmosphere  for a crime novel?

5] Is it set in an interesting location?

6] Does it overdo or concentrate on violence against women and children?

7] Does it contain a social commentary or message in the narrative?

8] Is it original?

9] Do the detectives exhibit some humour or give a glimpse of human frailty?

10] Has the book been ballyhooed  and overhyped?

The Caveman comes out very positively when considered with these parameters. From the back cover:

For four months Viggo Hansen’s body has been sitting, undiscovered in front of his television, close to the home of Chief Inspector William Wisting. Has Norwegian society become so coarsened that no one cares? Line, Wisting’s journalist daughter wants to know.

Another body is discovered in the forest that also has been left for four months, and as Wisting and his team meticulously work on that case, Line conducts her own investigation into the sad lonely life of Viggo Hansen, and very gradually the reader begins to suspect a connection between the bodies. 

This is Nordic Noir of the highest quality, a real treat for lovers of accurate police procedural novels, with two great protagonists. The novel has a lot of systematic police and journalistic work with just enough personal details about the characters to keep it really interesting. The author Jorn Lier Horst was a policeman for eighteen years and this shows in the accuracy of his narrative. This is definitely a contender for the prestigious Petrona Award. 

‘How is it possible to be so lonely and forgotten that it takes four months before anyone makes the chance discovery that you are dead. I think it would be a good story to print over Christmas. W’ve just been hailed by the UN as the best country in the world to live in but, in research into citizens experience of happiness, Norway is in 112th place……..’  

Ann CleevesI moved on to read The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves. I am ashamed to admit that this is first novel I have read by this author, having watched and enjoyed the adaptations of her Vera and Shetland book series on television.

The Moth Catcher is the seventh book in the series featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, and it is the sort of novel that if you have become jaded with too much crime fiction will reinvigorate your interest in the genre. This story has everything with a setting in beautiful Northumberland, an interesting plot, superb characters, a biting social commentary and a great trio of detectives lead by the idiosyncratic Vera.

Silver earrings. Make up. Vera wondered if she was on her way out to a special lunch or if she always made the effort. It was clear her husband doted on her.

Vera thought for a moment that she might have found a man if she’d scrubbed up a bit better, then decided no man was worth the time it took to plaster stuff on your face in the morning, when you could have an extra cup of tea instead. 

Vera, Holly Clarke and Joe Ashworth are interesting characters, who investigate a double murder in an isolated valley in Northumberland. The plot is becomes complex when it is discovered that the two victims  are both moth collectors. Vera’s investigations centre on the claustrophobic group of people, who live in the upmarket barn conversions and call themselves the “retired hedonists”. The lives of these comfortably off retirees are contrasted with that of the locals, and the detectives delve deeply into the past histories of the victims and suspects.  

Highly recommended, a very enjoyable read. This is definitely one of the best English detective novels I have read for some time, and shows you don’t necessarily have to go Nordic to get a great crime story. Time permitting I hope to go back and read the earlier books in this series.     

cobenI picked up Harlan Coben’s The Stranger in our local supermarket simply because the main character was called Adam Price.

The book was a typical quick read airport novel with Adam’s American Dream life coming to an abrupt end as a stranger tells him something about Corinne, his wife, he does not want to hear. In typical Coben style Corinne mysteriously goes missing. This is the third Harlan Coben novel I have read and in Tell No One, Six Years and The Stranger the main protagonist is searching for his woman. It seems to be a winning formula? 

The setting is in one of those idyllic American small towns where everyone seems to have a plenty of money, but there is an undercurrent of trouble. The reader realises the suburban town is very wealthy, because Adam’s sons play lacrosse at high school. The plot features embezzlement, corporate greed, murder, blackmail and computer hacking. 

One of the book’s failings is that many of the characters lack any depth. They seem to have been selected from a box of standard stereotypes, but Coben sells millions of books simply because his novels are such easy reads.  

Too bad. Too bad his old man couldn’t see how his only son had become such a big man in this town. Bob no longer lived on the crummy side of town where the teachers and blue-collar guys tried to survive. No, he bought the big manor with the mansard roof in the ritzy “country club” section of town. He and Melanie drove his-and hers Mercedes. People respected them.

I have noticed reading Le Carre, and some Nordic authors, that “happy endings” are not in vogue, and Harlan Coben follows this trend. Does ending a novel with a tragedy make it great literature?