rickmanThe author Phil Rickman was recommended to me by Philip in British Columbia, a reader who knows a lot more about crime fiction than I do. 

I chose The lamp of the Wicked because there was a link to the real life killings perpetrated by the notorious serial killer Fred West. I enjoyed the book with its clever plot, and memorable characters especially the vicar Merrily Watkins, and her troubled teenage daughter Jane. The social commentary was very up to date with comments on  how rural areas are ruined by both new buildings to accommodate those fleeing from the overcrowded cities of the UK, and rich city folk buying cottages in pretty villages and only using them as  weekend retreats or holiday homes. The interesting theory that all that electricity around us, power cables, phone masts, computers, mobile phones etc can affect the brain waves of sensitive individuals is covered brilliantly in the story. 

This book was more than crime fiction it was a virtually a social history of rural communities, and the stresses they face. Merrily, the diocesan exorcist, or more correctly deliverance consultant, is a wonderfully flawed character, but her heart is in the right place, and she is surrounded by cast of many interesting characters. If the book has any minor faults it is there are too many plot strands, too many characters, and too many pages. But the book kept my interest for the whole 610 pages, not an easy task.  

The narrative starts with a disagreement between Gomer Parry and wide boy Roddy Lodge about the installation of septic tanks. That grabbed my interest because during the fifteen years I lived in a Devon longhouse I unfortunately became a bit of an expert on septic tanks! People would sometimes actually phone and ask my advice. That advice was usually “move to a house on the main drainage system”. Septic tanks situated close to the house are trouble, although there are ways to get round the problem. 

The Lamp of the Wicked was a very good tense read, but perhaps a bit too long for some readers.

Despite the fog, the square was collecting its nightly quota of upmarket 4x4s: well-off couples coming to dine-on a Monday night for heaven’s sake-at the Black Swan and the restaurant that used to be Cassidy’s Country Kitchen. 

The Monday diners were mostly the youthfully retired with up to half a century to kill before death.  

carlottoGang of Lovers is a taut sharply written shortish novel which is a good example of Italian hard boiled noir. Marco Buratti, aka The Alligator, and his associates, Max the Memory and Beniamino Rossini have been traumatised by the events of a long gang war against new style criminals, people with no honour or standards. 

The modern world, in that sector, was by then all mafia: multinational, a cross section of every and all kinds of corrupt institutional power. Corrupt and toxic.

When enriching yourself illegally means poisoning people and the places they live, devising latter-day slave trades, and working hand in glove with politicians, businessmen, and moguls of high finance, then free men with a conscience decide it’s time to leave the party.

When Oriana Pozzi Vitali, an elegant wealthy Swiss lady asks for help in finding out the fate of her lover, who was kidnapped, Marco after a lot of hesitation takes the case. Oriana had failed to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers and as a result her Guido had disappeared.

It was usually a missing person. Maybe her daughter had run off with a stable boy, or her husband had run off with the cook. As I stubbed out my cigarette I mused on the fact that once upon a time, nobody would have dreamed of running away with a cook, male or female.

Times have changed. These days, chefs were stars and had opinions about everything.

Before long, we’d have a chef running the country. 

 

The story is told from the three different perspectives of Marco Buratti, a cop called Campagna, and the villain of the story Giorgio Pelligrini, an amoral brilliant criminal with a “talent” for exploiting and abusing women. The narrative contains accounts of eating in numerous restaurants, and discussions about food, as well as murder and mayhem. The dialogue is sometimes brutally cynical as Marco, and Giorgio indulge in an addictive game of cat and mouse.

It is a fact that most crime fiction is read by women, and I wonder what they make of  the character of Giorgio Pellegrini, a man who totally dominates his women. 

Sweat was streamming down her body, her hair was matted to her head. Complete physical collapse was imminent. I helped her off the bike and laid her down on the wall-to-wall carpeting. I ripped off her panties and yanked open her legs.

Martina welcomed me gratefully.

Gang of Lovers is Italian “hard boiled” noir but with the shell left on. 

childsI read Personal by CWA Diamond Dagger winner Lee Child as a bit of light relief after the dark Nordic angst of The Silence of the Sea. It would perhaps be impertinent of me to review a book by the author of so many best sellers, and this is only the second Jack Reacher I have read.

But here are a few comments……….

That first Reacher I read was not particularly memorable, and this one after a great start faded away and the ending was rather weak. 

I also found it amusing that Personal seemed to be written for an American readership who know next nothing about England. 

‘Don’t you think? MI5 could trace it.’

‘To a cash payment in Boots the Chemist. Doesn’t help.

‘ ‘What’s Boots the Chemist?’

‘Their pharmacy chain. Like CVS. John Boot set it up in the middle of the nineteenth century. He probably looked just like the guy who built the wall around Wallace Court. It started out as a herbal medicine store, in a place called Nottingham, which is way north of here.’

Do American CIA/state department agents operating in England not know where Nottingham is, and do they need a geography and history lesson every few pages?

….then I saw the arch of a big soccer stadium, which meant we had made it to a place called Wembley.

Jack Reacher, an American, actually seems to me to be descended from a long line of British thriller heroes such as Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and James Bond. The style of the narrative, action packed reminded me a lot of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond books although obviously without the xenophobia, that distinguished those novels. For Sapper anywhere west of Godalming was bandit country.

In Personal Reacher sets out to save the ministers of the G8 from a sniper. There are only a few men in the world who could hit a target from 1,400 yards, and Reacher knows one of them personally. He sent him to prison years before. The reader is taken from Arkansas and Paris to exotic Romford, with Reacher leaving bodies in his wake, and we learn the unfortunate truth.

The problem with Personal is that any book that starts with the attempted assassination of a French President is going to be compared, by readers of my age, with The Day of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. Perhaps not a fair comparison one is a great crime fiction thriller, the other a pleasant read for a couple of sunny afternoons.

Lee Child is great fun to read if you treat the books as enjoyable beach novels that don’t strain the intellect too much. 

 

A luxury yacht arrives in Reykjavik harbour with nobody on board. What has happened to the crew, and to the family who were on board when it left Lisbon?

TPA2015SThora Gudmundsdottir is hired by the young father’s parents to investigate, and is soon drawn deeper into the mystery. What should she make of the rumours saying that the vessel was cursed, especially given that when she boards the yacht she thinks she sees one of the missing twins? Where is Karitas, the glamorous young wife of the yacht’s former owner? And whose is the body that has washed up further along the shore? [taken from the Amazon introduction]

Kathy commented on the 20 May:

I’d like to read an explanation of why this book [The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir] was chosen. I say this as a fan of Yrsa’s series.
But you gave a compelling argument for The Hummingbird and another blogger preferred Hunting Dogs. So I’d like to see why this book was chosen, in particular, i.e. atmosphere, plot, characters, etc.

I finished reading The Silence of the Sea yesterday, and I would like to ask the judges that same question.

 

The story is told in two timeframes with Thora’s investigation trying to prove that the family on the yacht are dead so that the parents and surviving daughter can claim the very large life insurance policies, interspersed with lengthy flashbacks to the voyage from Lisbon to Icelandic waters. It is perhaps a measure of the success of the story that the author drew me into her world so much that I was shocked, and very upset by the ending. I did not enjoy reading the book, but then I don’t think it was a story the reader was supposed to enjoy.

As I read I had hoped that we were not heading for one of those dark Nordic conclusions that leaves me emotionally drained, and searching for a Reginald Hill, or even a Massimo Carlotto for light relief. 

The ending perhaps even crossed the line from horror to horrid. Maybe that says more about my fragile emotional state than it does about the book. Also I cannot believe that any police force in the world would treat a yacht arriving in port, without the seven people meant to be on board, in such a lax manner. Perhaps in the numerous lengthy flashbacks to life on the voyage I found the actions of Aegir, the father, unbelievably stupid. Perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon, who can’t cope with miserable endings. 

In the books I read I am looking for the following features; a good plot, teasing subplots, believable interesting characters, an easy to read style, originality, a few red herrings, new locations, telling social commentary, even a little humour, and some empathy with the reader.

In the case of the Petrona Award winner I feel it should also be a book that the late Maxine Clarke would have enjoyed, a difficult judgement to make unless you knew her very well.

I am going to quote one of the judges, in her own review of the book.

“I found the book to be both compelling and shocking and was, ultimately, glad to reach the end.”

I totally agree. Frankly, even if you loved the rest of the book the ending was so shocking, that it would have disqualified it in my mind from receiving the award. 

There were at least three much more readable books suitable for the general reader on the shortlist than The Silence of the Sea, and my choice would have been The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto.      

ghostCamille671934

 

 

 

 

 

I read Pierre LeMaitre’s Camille [reviewed here], Death’s Jest-Book by Reginald Hill, The Ghost by Robert Harris, and only just started the Petrona Award winner The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. 

Death’s Jest-Book is another big blockbuster of a novel being both a sequel to Dialogues Of The Dead, and also having several new intriguing sub-plots. The fact that two 600 page books can be read without too much of a struggle is a tribute to one of our greatest crime writers, and the wonderfully quirky characters created by Reginald Hill. It was quite sad to say goodbye, even temporarily, to Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy, Hat Bowler, “Ivor” Novello, Franny Roote, and their relationships and problems.

The Ghost by Robert Harris is a brilliant read, but not quite my cup of tea, I much prefer his historical fiction books Fatherland, Enigma and An Officer And A Spy, simply because modern politics seems still a bit too raw as we still face the problems discussed in The Ghost. 

The Ghost is roped in to rewrite the autobiography of an ex-British Prime Minister called Adam Lang, who despite the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental bears a strong likeness to a recent British politician. The real Lang was a master of illusion, won three general elections, and was surrounded by political colleagues some of whom spent more time plotting his demise than running the country. 

In the book the previous “ghost” writer has met an untimely end apparently falling off the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Our new ghost, a man who does not know anything about politics, and who is never named, discusses the manuscript he is to rewrite with Amelia, Lang’s personal assistant.

‘Honestly? I haven’t had so much fun since I read the memoirs of Leonid Brezhnez.’ She didn’t smile. ‘I don’t understand how it happened,’ I went on.

‘You people were running the country not that long ago. Surely one of you had English as a first language?’

Author Robert Harris fell out with New Labour, and our ex-PM, over the Iraq War, a conflict which may well go down in history as one of the greatest strategic mistakes since Cornwallis marched his army into Yorktown. But who knows………..

 

CamilleAnne Forestier, the beautiful new woman in Commandant Camille Verhoeven’s life is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is severely injured during a violent robbery at a Paris jewellery store in the Galerie Monier.

Camille is distraught and gets the case assigned to him in breach of regulations failing to tell his superiors of his relationship with Anne. The story of the hunt for the perpetrators is told from multiple perspectives in a sharp frenetic narrative, with very vivid descriptions of the violence. The reader is taken through the thoughts and actions of the unnamed villain, and this is contrasted with Camille’s  efforts to track down the man identified by Anne from photographs of criminals with a similar modus operandi.

This is a dark police procedural with the difference that Camille breaks every rule risking his career in an attempt to protect Anne from further injury, or death. 

Every time he thinks about her, Camille cannot help but wonder what she sees in him. He is fifty years old, almost bald, and most important he is barely four foot eleven. 

When a book contains descriptions of violence it has to have in my opinion a redeeming feature to put it at the highest level. Alex, Pierre LeMaitre’s International Dagger winning novel had a brilliant plot twist, unfortunately the plot twist in Camille is rather obvious from the beginning.

I wanted to rate this book as a potential winner of the International Dagger, after all as a reader of below average height I feel a certain affinity and a lot of sympathy for Camille. His character dominates the novel, but surely after the murder of his wife, Irene,  the man has taken enough punishment. 

But despite the wonderful swift pace of the narrative I was slightly disappointed with Camille, which I thought was slightly let down by the fairly obvious plot twist. 

Art the end of the book there is a useful translator’s note about the judicial system in France [and much of Europe], which is so very different from that in the UK and USA. I remember a documentary about the International serial killer Jack Unterweger, when Florida police travelling to his trial in Austria were slightly confused by the absence of a jury. 

Camille is a good crime fiction read, but not in my opinion as good as number two in the trilogy Alex, or Deon Meyer’s Cobra or Leif G.W. Persson’s Free Falling As If In A Dream, the two other contenders for the International Dagger that I have read.

The catalogue of his lies is becoming dangrously long. But it is not this that terrifies Camille. It is knowing that Anne’s life is hanging by a thread. And he is utterly powerless.

 

 

Falling Freely, As If In A Dream by Leif GW Persson (tr Paul Norlen) – published by Transworld.
Camille by Pierre Lemaitre (tr Frank Wynne) – published by Quercus.
Cobra** by Deon Meyer (tr K.L Seegers) – published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (tr Sam Gordon) – published by MacLehose Press.
The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo (tr Isabelle Kaufeler) – published by HarperCollins.
Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman (tr Ian Giles) – published by Quercus. 

I have read two books from this shortlist. The link above is to my review of the last book in Leif G.W.Persson’s trilogy about the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the world to have read the complete three volume “story of a crime”, and the only person to have enjoyed it? I needed the exercise, both mental and physical, involved in tackling these hefty books.

I have extracted below my comments about Cobra made in a review of my summer reading last September 13. I do have Camille by Pierre LeMaitre translator Frank Wynne ready to read after my current door stop read, but I probably won’t read the others unless one of them wins. 

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. 

51khW2gvs-L._SL110_THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)

 

The winner was announced tonight at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol. The award was presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series. 

I haven’t read this one yet, but it must be a very good novel to beat out the four novels that I did read from a strong shortlist. 

 

photo-1photovvThere is a story in this part of Devon that the bridge referred to in Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic song Bridge Over Troubled Water is that over the River Exe at Bickleigh. Paul Simon spent some time in England in the 1960s staying in the village, and perhaps the beauty of the setting inspired him to write the song. We had lunch there on Saturday with friends, who emigrated to the USA in 1981. The Heron in the river certainly didn’t mind the troubled waters, and we had a great time talking about old times.  

 

TPA2015S

 

 

Next week the Petrona Award winner will be announced at CrimeFest in Bristol. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend but having successfully guessed the first two winners of this prestigious award I am going to be very cheeky and select my winner. I have read only four of the shortlisted books, but I think it would be a good thing if this year’s winner did not come from the usual suspects.  

I have also thought about which book Maxine Clarke, in whose memory this award is given, would have chosen.

My winner would be The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelelto translated from the Finnish by David Hackston. This novel has an Hummunusual protagonist, Anna Fekete, a Yugoslav Hungarian who moved to Finland as a child. Anna has family problems, and an interesting love life, as well as a social conscience. She struggles with the antagonism of her racist older colleague Esko, and the problems of her brother who has failed to make a proper life for himself.

The location is in a northern Finnish coastal town, and the police work as the team of detectives track down a serial killer seems very realistic. There is a moving sub plot about a teenage Kurdish girl in danger of being married off to a much older man, or facing  an even worse fate. This is a very good book and the fact that it is a debut novel is surprising because it has fully drawn characters as well as a gripping plot.

I also think Maxine would have liked this story with the female detective, the complex plot and contemporary social commentary. But that is just my opinion.

Less of the Social Services, less of the nonsense about integration, just get these people into work. Working life in Finland isn’t so weird and wonderful that an immigrant can’t survive. But of course this would mean less funding for integration projects, fewer jobs and meetings for all those experts. So that’s that then.