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.    

 

HummfliesDoD Reginald HillThe weather in April was very good and that meant less reading, and more travelling around the glorious Devon countryside. Roaming around the scenic Jurassic coast at Budleigh Salterton and Seaton, and the stark  beauty of Dartmoor, as well as the idiosyncratic market towns, we constantly realise how lucky we are to live in the South West of England. I should get employment with the Devon Tourist Board.

I read the two strong contenders for the Petrona Award, The Hummingbird and The Human Flies,  and as light relief Dialogues Of The Dead by Reginald Hill.

Dialogues is one of Reginald Hill’s door stop novels at over 550 pages, but it is an easy read [the print size is large enough to be read by septuagenarians, a vital matter for this reader]. There is a laugh on every page, and  just when you think you have identified the murderer, he or she is bumped off. I did get it right in the end, but only after my first choice met an untimely end. Dialogues is classic Reginald Hill, erudite with a Dickensian cast of characters joining with the usual suspects of Dalziel, Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy and playing a big part in this novel DC “Hat” Bowler. Shirley Novello is recovering from a gunshot wound which she received  in the previous novel Arms And The Women, so Hat becomes a vital member of the investigative team, who are always one step behind a deranged serial killer. But of course Reginald Hill’s take on the serial killer novel is very different from most other writers.

‘ I’m just thinking, shouldn’t we concentrate a little harder on solving this case, sir, rather than finding out who the mole is?’

‘Nay, that’s down to you, Pete. This is one of them clever-cut cases. Old-fashioned bugger like me’s right out of his depth. I’ll fade into the background and let you call the shots on this one.’

Oh yes? thought Pascoe sceptically. Previous experience had taught him that having the Fat Man in the background tended to block out the light.

The news this week of the death of Ruth Rendell was very sad. Rendell’s first book From Doon With Death was published way back in 1964, and it featured one of my favourite detective teams of  Reg Wexford and Mike Burden. For many years I read every Wexford book that was published, and many of the psychological thrillers written under the name Barbara Vine, but unfortunately there isn’t enough time to read everything and I moved on to other authors, while still respecting the subtle plot twists and interesting characters that featured in her books.

In recent years British crime fiction has lost Reginald Hill, P.D. James and now Ruth Rendell, all three were giants of the genre they will be greatly missed.   

TPA2015S

 

 

It is sometimes difficult to get old dinosaurs like me, who are very set in their ways, to read new authors, and therefore I am grateful to the judges of the Petrona Award in adding two impressive authors, new to me, to their shortlist. I have now read four of the shortlisted six books, and may possibly have the time to read one more book before the winner is announced.

HummThe Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated from the Finnish by David Hackstrom, is an excellent police procedural with an interesting female main protagonist, Anna Fekete, a Hungarian immigrant from the northern part of the former Yugoslavia. The book begins with a murder, and as more murders occur and a serial killer investigation begins, it widens its remit to deal with the problems of multiculturalism in a democratic society.

Although Anna has lived in Finland for most of her life and speaks perfect Finnish she faces a lot of antagonism from Esko, one of the police team. Esko could be classified easily as a racist, or is he just someone very scared of the changes in Finnish society.

As a rule, minorities weren’t oppressed in the former Yugoslavia- except for the Roma, a sin of which the whole world is guilty. 

 

A subplot and another narrative theme blended into the story involves a Kurdish family, and the possible forced marriage or even “honour killing” of their daughter. We also learn about Anna’s family life, her brother, Akos, has failed to adjust to life in Finland and can’t even speak the local language, while her sexual liaisons and the marital problems of her fellow team members add to the interest.

Finland it seems has a difficult combination of problems with wide gun ownership, and heavy alcohol consumption. The Hummingbird is yet another excellent Scandinavian crime book that adds a layer of realism to the  myth of Scandinavia’s social democratic utopia. This is definitely a strong contender for the Petrona Award. 

Bihar Chelkin is lying. I’m convinced this is a matter of honour violence,’ Anna said eventually. She felt compelled to repeat herself  one last time, especially to that arsehole.  

‘Finnish law doesn’t recognise such a crime,’ he replied impassively.

The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson is a very different book. This novel is set  in theflies distant past, 1968, when I was a young man in my prime, and the world was almost in as big mess as it is today. 

The story told in a crisp first person narrative by young detective Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen, known as K2, is a variation on the locked room mystery being a tribute or pastiche of an Agatha Christie novel. The English country house mystery moved to an Oslo apartment block at 25 Krebs’ Street. The victim is Harald Olesen, one of the heroes of Norway’s wartime resistance movement to the Nazi occupation, and a cabinet minister in the post war period. When Kolbjorn begins to unravel the lives of the other occupants of 25 Krebs’ Street he finds a group of people who underneath a facade of comparative respectability have many secrets. Kolbjorn has few leads, and when a friend of his parents Professor Borchmann tells him that his daughter Patricia, an eighteen year old girl with a brilliant mind, who is confined to a wheelchair, can help him he accepts the offer. Patricia swiftly solves the mystery of how the locked room murder was committed, but the pair still have to discover the identity of the murderer. She has worked out how, now we want to know why and that will lead to who.

Kjolborn and Patricia uncover a web of lies and intrigue, marital infidelity, love affairs, wartime treachery and collaboration as they hunt for the killer. 

Those who enjoy Agatha Christie novels, and good crime fiction will love the twists and turns in this tale. The Human Flies is yet another contender for the Petrona Award, and I congratulate the judges on providing readers with such a strong shortlist. 

‘He is everything that I have ever dreamed of in a man. There is a physical aspect, obviously. I have always been attracted to to blond men of my height, and he has just the right physique and is so elegant’………….[my comment: he also has a wife and young baby]

………….

As I walked down the stairs, I pondered whether the ever more mysterious Sara Sundqvist had been aware of the fact that I too was a blond and well-built man of about her height.  

zagrebYou can read my review of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr at EuroCrime.

Number ten in the brilliant Bernie Gunther series reminds us once again that mankind is capable of real evil, and the tremendous debt we owe to the brave men and women who fought to remove the stain of Nazism from Europe.

When reading this book I frequently had to remind myself that the most evil characters, and the more terrible events were not fictional creations but real life. The story of what happened during those dreadful years can never be told enough times, and perhaps one day people like Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury will stop “apologising” for winning the war, and eliminating one of the most profoundly evil regimes in history. 

 

The controversial Bombing of Dresden took place on 13-15 February 1945, the apparently less controversial last V2 rocket attack on London took place on 25 March 1945.

 

galvestonwencelaskolymskyprovidenceI managed to read four books in March, three and two thirds actually but I will count it as four.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto [reviewed here]

The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson [1960]

Kolymsky Heights also by Lionel Davidson [1994]

Providence Rag by Bruce De Silva

It was  interesting to read Lionel Davidson’s first and last thrillers. He won the CWA Gold Dagger on three occasions, and the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement award in 2001. Both books were excellent exciting reads in very different styles.

The Night of Wenceslas was full of fun, despite the Cold War setting, as Nicolas Whistler tells the reader of the way he was “persuaded” to travel to Prague, in what was then Communist Czechoslovakia a country from which his parents had emigrated, to obtain a secret formula for an unbreakable glass.  Of course things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Nicolas has a very difficult time despite the amorous attentions of Vlasta Simenova, the girl with the bomb-shaped breasts. 

‘I haven’t any qualifications, Mr Cunliffe,’ I told him slowly and desperately.’Before you go any further, you’ve got to understand that. I am not qualified to do anything. I am also a coward. I don’t know what it is you want me to do, and I don’t want to know. I’d be less than useless to you.’

Kolymsky Heights  is a very different animal. This is a great adventure story, called by Philip Pullman in the introduction the best thriller he’s ever read, and compared by him and others to the The Lord of the Rings, Smiley’s People, Treasure Island and Casino Royale it is indeed a superb book. It is also a very complex story, packed full of detail some of which is inclined to slow the narrative slightly. But the quest by the Native Canadian Jean-Baptiste Porteur, a brilliant linguist among his other skills, to discover the purpose of a top secret establishment is full of excitement and action. The reader is taken from the dreaming spires of Oxford to British Columbia and Canada’s Far North, and then to Japan and Siberia, among the various peoples of that region. 

The house of Dr Komarov had stood a hundred years-a long time for a simple one of wood, but the wood was good. It had seen out Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicholas II, and also the entire communist regime.

Providence Rag by Edgar Award winning author Bruce DeSilva is a serial killer novel, but one that is very different and far superior to the usual run of the mill efforts. The book explores the vast gulf between the law and justice, and the chasm between the letter of the law and plain common sense.

In 1989 the police with the help of reporter Liam Mulligan arrest the serial killer, a fifteen year old, who has slaughtered five people including young children. When the cops and reporters are celebrating their success, state prosecutor Malcolm Roberts spoils things.

“There is something you all need to know,” he told the revelers. “Rhode Island’s criminal codes haven’t been updated in decades. When they were written , no one envisaged a child as twisted and dangerous as ****** ***** . The law says juvenile offenders no matter what their crimes, must be released and given a fresh start at age twenty-one. The attorney general is going to ask the legislature to rewrite the law so this won’t happen again. But they can’t change it retroactively. “In six years, the bastard will get out and start killing all over again.”

The narrative jumps forward to 2012 when the killer is being held illegally for crimes that he is supposed to have committed inside the prison. The authorities realise he is a psychopath and are desperate not to release him. Crimes have been fabricated with false evidence by prison officers, and when Mulligan’s reporter pal Mason decides that the Dispatch should campaign for the killer’s release, the failing newspaper is faced with a difficult ethical issue. 

An excellent read although the stupidity of the law is not such a shock to a British reader, where someone can kill five people be released after 16 years, and are then able to build up an arsenal of weapons.      

Viper is the sixth book in the Commissario Ricciardi series set in Fascist Italy during the 1930s, and this story takes place in Naples during the week before ricciardiEaster 1932.

Viper the most enticing and beautiful prostitute in Il Paradiso, Naples most famous brothel is found murdered. Commissario Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione are sent to investigate a case that has several possible suspects; Madame Yvonne the proprietor of the luxurious establishment, Lily- Bianca Palumbo, a jealous rival, and Viper’s only two clients who are dedicated to her in different ways. 

Vincenzo Ventrone the owner of a respectable business selling sacred art to the wealthy of Naples, has a staid conservative twenty year old son Augusto, who thinks his father’s trips to Il Paradiso are bringing shame and financial ruin to the business. 

Giussepe Coppola, a dealer in vegetables, who knew Viper back in her home village when she was simply Maria Rosaria Cennamo, and who had proposed marriage to the beauty. His brother, Pietro is upset at the prospect of Viper joining their family.

The investigation may be interesting, but it is the subplots and characters that make these books one of the best historical crime fiction series around. Firstly the conversations and political jokes between Ricciardi, Maione and pathologist Dr Bruno Modo sum up some of the difficulties of working in a non-democratic state, where a misplaced word or look can get you in deep trouble.

Secondly the love triangle between Ricciardi, a man terrified of love having seen the damage it can do, and the two women who desire him. Enrica, the shy bespectacled woman, who is being taught to cook by Rosa, Ricciardi’s tata, and the beautiful worldly widow Livia Lucani, who seemingly has all the advantages in this battle for the Commissario’s affections.

In this episode Dr Modo argues with fascist bullies, and later is taken away by members of the party to be sent into internal exile.

The idea that Benito Mussolini, because of his appearance was some kind of joke dictator is misplaced. His secret police were every bit as frightening as the Gestapo, and while Hitler had many of his closest associates murdered, Il Duce also executed his son-in-law, Count Ciano. 

On that occasion he’d understood that Fascism was a very complex phenomenon, and that the seemingly fanciful tales that circulated about OVRA-the notorious secret police agency that beat back all anti-Fascist activities, real or imagined with stealthy brutality- were, if anything, understating the case.

Viper is a very good addition to this excellent series, and because of the compelling atmosphere and the number of interesting personal relationships it is a great read.

For Lucia Maione, just like all the mothers in the city, Easter began with Carnival, forty-one days before; and therefore with preparations for the feast of Fat Tuesday, Mardi gras, a feast for which she was renowned throughout the quarter, if she did say so herself: his majesty the lasagne, the dish of kings, with ragu and meatballs; sausages and rapini, the fagatini nella rezza, pork livers cooked in a mesh made of pig’s intestines and laurel leaves, and most important of all, the sanguinaccio, a sweet blood pudding made of cocoa, milk, and pig’s blood garnished with candied citron, a treat that the children dreamed of all year.