Archive for September, 2008


I recently read the seventh book in a crime series that should have finished with number six. [ A review of this poor effort might possibly appear on the excellent Euro Crime in the future]

I therefore decided that my next read would be something I was sure would clear my head of the abject nonsense I had just read. I was going to see the film Jar City [adapted from the Arnaldur Indridason novel] in a few days so to avoid confusion I put off starting Indridason’s Arctic Chill and read March Violets by Philip Kerr.

First published in 1989 March Violets [the title refers to those people jumping late on the Nazi bandwagon] was the first in the Berlin Noir trilogy featuring Berlin cop turned private investigator Bernie Gunther and was quickly followed by The Pale Criminal in 1990 and A German Requiem in 1991.

Then after a 15 year gap Kerr returned to his Philip Marlowe-like wise cracking detective in 2006 with The One From The Other reviewed  here and here and this year with A Quiet Flame which I reviewed here.

The long gap from its publication 1989 has not dulled the impact of March Violets set in the Berlin of 1936 during the Olympic Games. Philip Kerr brilliantly uses the very ‘Raymond Chandler like’ wise cracking private eye Bernie Gunther to emphasise that the Nazis were not only complete bastards but had no sense of humour. 
Bernie Gunther’s search for a double murderer, some important lost papers and a diamond necklace while trying to negotiate the complex rivalries and power struggles of a vicious totalitarian regime make this a really gripping book. There are the required plot twists and snappy dialogue to make this a good detective story, but of course it is much more than that as it is also a well researched investigation into the reality of fascism. 
Some might say we have heard this all before and is it necessary to read yet another book about the Nazis, and the interminable rivalries between Goering, Goebbels and Himmler.

Well today there is an election in Austria with two far right leaders, who apparently hate each other, Joerg Haider [BZO Alliance for Austria’s Future] and Heinz-Christian Strache [FPO Austrian Freedom Party] expected to make gains at the expense of the centre-left parties.

‘Is business picking up then?’ I said. He turned to look at me. ‘What happened to all the books? Weizmann shook his head sadly.
‘Unfortunately, I had to remove them. The Nuremberg Laws–‘ he said with a scornful laugh,’- they forbid a Jew to sell books. Even secondhand ones.’ He turned and passed through to the back room. 
‘These days I believe in the law like I believe in Horst Wessel’s heroism.’ 


Posted: September 27, 2008 in Uncategorized


Paul Newman has died aged 83. He was something special both as an actor and  a philanthropist who gave so generously to help others

Paul Newman was one of those Hollywood actors who had actually fought in a real war serving on the USS Bunker Hill at Okinawa, and perhaps this was the reason he was such  a shining example of how a real star should behave. 


Posted: September 27, 2008 in Uncategorized


Iceland’s tourist board will not be pleased with the view of the country portrayed in director Baltasar Kormakur’s film Jar City. We went to see this film at our local Picture House [at reduced rate for senior citizens ;o))] and this was superb cinema with atmospheric Icelandic choir music, beautiful cinematography of the bleak scenery and compelling acting. 

Kormakur accurately transposed Arnaldur Indridason’s Glass Key winning novel, published in the UK as Tainted Blood, with its gripping story to the screen.

It was particularly pleasing that actors had been cast who fitted the image of the characters from the books. There were fine performances from Ingvar Sigurdsson as the perfect Erlendur and Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir as his daughter Eva Lind, and it was their relationship that made this such a moving film. There was also an excellent brooding performance by Atli Rafn Sigurdsson as Orn.
If you have not read any of the Indridason books I am sure you will want to remedy that in the future after seeing this film. 

I should warn you that Icelandic cuisine is not up to Andrea Camilleri’s Italian standards and Erlendur’s  favourite meal is sheep’s head. 


Posted: September 24, 2008 in Uncategorized


What a week!

Firstly The Wire finished its run in the UK on cable channel FX and then Gordon Brown prolonged the Greek tragedy that is his premiership.

Gordon Brown, ‘I’m a man for detail’, who failed after a decade in the Treasury to notice the small detail that abolishing the 10p tax rate would affect hundreds of thousands of lower paid workers managed to persuade his party into letting him play as Prime Minister for a little while longer. 

The Wire was brilliant television. It was in fact more than just a television show, it was a series of linked stories brought to the small screen and it made the sort of demands a novel makes on its readers. The Wire was almost written like a Dickens and Conan Doyle novel brought into the 21st century with television naturally taking the place of the weekly or monthly magazines of the 19th century. 
We can’t attempt to solve the problems of our cities on both sides of the Atlantic if we don’t accept that the problems exist in the first place and the Wire showed us all those problems in a very stark in your face manner. The writing was superior to most television which was to be expected if as well as creator David Simon, who is married to Laura Lippman, and Ed Burns, an ex homicide detective and school teacher, you add crime novelists of the pedigree of Richard Price, George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane to the writing team.

With writers like that the plots were always kept fresh and alive as each series concentrated on one particular aspect of life in Baltimore; the politics, the docks, the  schools, the police, and newspapers, while covering the continuing the saga of the fight against the drug gangs. The acting throughout was top notch and although it seems invidious to pick out anyone from such a great ensemble there were   particularly charismatic performances from Andre Royo, as drug addict Bubbles, and Michael K. Williams as the menacing Omar Little.  

Among the numerous sharp quotes throughout the series one has stuck in my mind because it seems so appropriate at the present moment. 

‘You know what the trouble is Brucie? We used to make shit in this country…build shit. Now we put out hands in the next guy’s pocket.’ 
[Frank Sobotka, Polish American union leader in series two.] 

I am going to miss The Wire a lot, but at least I will have more time to read. 


Posted: September 22, 2008 in Uncategorized

I almost forgot that The Big O by Irish author Declan Burke was published in the USA today. The crime caper novel The Big O must not be confused with the other Big O Senator Barack Obama. 

None of the characters in Declan’s book resemble the professorial junior senator from Illinois who would surely be more at home in a Philip Roth novel. 
On the other hand Sarah Palin would appear to fit right in to the rumbustious shenanigans portrayed so brilliantly in The Big O. 
If only British politicians had one tenth of the charisma and eccentricity of these US presidential hopefuls our elections [when we have them] would be much more fun.

Fun is the word I associate with Declan’s book and in my review I wrote that ‘The Big O is a loveable rogue of a novel….’ and great read. The full review is here
American readers should buy it now and it will give you at least something to laugh about during the election season.


UPS were at the door again today with yet another book from Picador USA

It was the excellent historical mystery The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin reviewed by me here last May, which featured Yashim ‘detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch’ back in the Istanbul of 1838.

I said then that ‘History and mystery, when done as well as this, are an unbeatable combination’. 
I reviewed the sequel The Bellini Card here and included links to Jason Goodwin’s blog which has a wealth of background information.

The first book in the Yashim series The Janissary Tree won the Edgar Award  for best first crime fiction novel.

So The Snake Stone is a prize well worth winning, and this time I will keep the competition open for a week and put the correct answers in a hat and draw the winner.

What links Paris, San Stefano, Sevres and Lausanne? 
Answers to please and all correct entries will go into the draw. 


Posted: September 21, 2008 in Uncategorized


Do read the Sunday Salon  post by Maxine at Petrona and her review of The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo here.

You can keep up to date with Scandinavian crime fiction at Barbara Fister’s blog here.

He really seemed quite sensible, thought Gunvald Larsson, but then the Minister of Justice had the reputation of being a shining exception among the career politicians who were busily steering Sweden down the long and evidently unavoidable slope. [The Terrorists 1975]

Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices has been won with one of the fastest replies I have had to a quiz question. This is a salutary lesson and I will need to do some serious work to make the Quirky Quiz more convoluted and difficult.

Thanks to those who fired their answers in so quickly last night and I am sorry there could be only one winner. 
The winner from Canada came in 1 hour 26 minutes ahead of the USA, with a very worthy third place entry from Italy 11 minutes back. Better luck next time.

What is the connection between 4,12,50 and 200 miles; Gadhus morhua and a British supermarket chain specializing in frozen food?

The answer of course is:

Gadhus Morhua is the Atlantic Cod, and that fish was at the heart of the fishing wars between Iceland and Britain, in the course of which Iceland — in 1958, 1972 and 1975 — tried progressively to extend its fishing limits from 4 to 12 to 50 to 200 miles.  And the name of that supermarket is ‘Iceland’.


Those nice people at Picador USA have sent me a copy of Arnaldur Indridason’s novel Voices, which won the Martin Beck award in 2005. 

I read this book last year and said ‘yet another top quality Scandinavian crime fiction novel with a lot of accurate insight into the multiplicity of problems of parenthood and our modern society’. I was using long words in 2007.
You can read my full review here.
And some other erudite reviews here and here.

You can win a copy of Voices but of course you will have to answer a Crime Scraps teaser. I haven’t set a quiz for a while and I must work on that for later in the year.

Anyway first correct answer sent to  wins the book.

What is the connection between 4,12, 50,and 200 miles; Gadhus morhua and a British supermarket chain specializing in frozen food? 

I have made it very easy because the book needs an appreciative home, the quiz will be in a different league.


Posted: September 17, 2008 in Uncategorized


Second Violin by John Lawton, an enigmatic author who lives on a remote hilltop in Derbyshire, is the first in chronological order of the Troy novels but the sixth he has written.

This novel follows the exploits of the Troy brothers Frederick and Rod, the children of  Russian émigré Alexei Troy who now runs a London based newspaper the Sunday Post. 

‘I think we can safely conclude that appeasement is dead. This has got to be the point at which Neville stops being a mouse and becomes a man.”
Alex said, ‘Mice don’t shape up , they just get eaten.’

Rod covers Berlin for the Post and travels to Vienna where he witnesses the Nazi atrocity of Kristallnacht and risks his life to help a ‘big eared’ Jewish tailor called Joseph Hummel. Lawton mixes real characters and ‘real history’ with his fictional story and does it with such cleverness that the fictional Rod is expelled from Europe along with the real Hugh Greene, a future director general of the BBC. 
Despite everything Joseph Hummel manages to get to London where he obtains lodgings and work with Billy Jacks, a cockney with a typically ‘bolshie’ attitude to life. 

Frederick Troy is promoted to Sergeant and along with Walter Stilton, who has a very attractive daughter, and the thoroughly unpleasant Steerforth they work the ‘wop, kraut and kike’ run in order to intern on the Isle of Man all those who are not ‘English’ or ‘English enough’. The irony is that Rod, Harrow, Cambridge and upper class accent was born in Vienna and never became  a naturalised subject of the King. Therefore Frederick has to arrest his own brother along with Hummel and Billy Jacks, who was born in Danzig and brought to Stepney at the age of two.
They are transported off to a camp on the Isle of Man where half the brilliant professors, cooks and tailors in England have been interned. As the Blitz on London begins Frederick gets entaangled with two very different beautiful women, and investigates the mysterious deaths of several rabbis.

Troy was short. Below regulation height for a London bobby and only accepted onto the force by waiving of the rules.

Second Violin is an exceptional read, and not only because the short hero gets all the beautiful women, although that helps. The melding of true history with a fictional tale is achieved in a quite masterly fashion and the characters are so sharply drawn and the descriptions so vivid that the reader can see Hummel running through the streets of Vienna chased by SA brownshirts, or Freddie in Judy Jack’s kitchen enjoying her hospitality.

Second Violin met all five of the Crime Scraps criteria [entertainment, education, good plot, stimulating thought and memorable characters] for a good crime fiction novel and in fact even without the crime [the serial killing of the rabbis] it would still have been a fine book. I liked the easy to read style with short snappy chapters and the shifting perspective between the brothers activities. 
I loved the humour and above all the truthfulness and lack of sentimentality. 
The situation in England was not like Dad’s Army with everyone buckling down to defeat Hitler and many in the late 1930s and the early part of the war would gladly have surrendered and collaborated. John Lawton tells it like it was and I appreciated that honesty.
One thing puzzled me in that John Lawton makes a silly error in the latter part of the book concerning a rabbi and his son, and I wondered if it was deliberate because all the rest of the story is so meticulously researched in order to create the correct atmosphere. Was it a red herring?
Anyway it was not that important and I thoroughly enjoyed the start of the Troy saga and am really looking forward to reading  five more in a  series that the author calls a ‘social and political history of my time’. 

‘Freddie? Have you ever been to a Jewish funeral?’
He’d been to Freud’s, but he didn’t think that counted.
‘No. I’ve been to a couple of ‘brisses’ though. But…….they can’t be that different can they?’

Read more on the Troy books here and here.
Thanks to crimeficreader for supplying the book and nagging me to read John Lawton.