Archive for February, 2009


Friday was Stieg Larsson day in Sweden and Denmark as the movie based on the first book in the Millennium trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released. [Information from The Local Sweden’s News in English full article here].

You can read my previous posts which discuss the Stieg Larsson and Lisbeth Salander phenomenon here.

The article comments that “some critics have said virtually unknown actress Noomi Rapace …….is physically too big and muscular to faithfully play Salander, described in the trilogy as a small androgynous girl who is so skinny she looks anorexic…….But most viewers of the nearly two and half hour film said physical differences were forgotten thanks to Rapace’s convincing performance.”

Some authors never describe their protagonists to avoid the problem of readers not identifying with the character in any television or movie adaptation. Others have a very clear idea of what the hero or heroine looks like and describe them in detail. Stieg Larsson was one of the later type and described Salander as anorexic, 124-150 cm tall, 40 kgm in weight and although she was 26 looking like a 14 year old. It is a tragedy that we can’t ask the author what he thinks about the casting of the movie, but I shall look forward to the sub-titled version with great anticipation to see how an actress who bears very little resemblance to the Lisbeth Salander I imagined comes across on the screen.


Steve Mosby’s CRY FOR HELP-unsettling edge of the seat stuff. I slept with the light on after I’d finished it.


Again, another tough category for me since I love comic crime fiction. I think though, that my vote would have to go to Donald Westlake’s THE HOT ROCK-probably the funniest book ever written. When you think it can’t get any funnier, Westlake twists it even further. Brilliant stuff. I re-read it every year.


Joe Lansdale’s THE BOTTOMS- a coming of age novel set in East Texas during the Depression. A serial killer, racial tensions, vivid evocative descriptions and memorable characters. I love his writing.


I’m not really a big reader of straight thrillers, so my choice here would be Kevin Wignall’s WHO IS CONRAD HIRST?
The short answer to that question is that Conrad Hirst is a hit-man who wants out of the business, the long answer is much more involved, so much more poignant, so much more human. In the first couple of pages of the book the reader learns that Conrad has decided to kill his way out of the business, by doing what he does best, and disposing of the few people who know about him. Running in parallel is another thread telling how and why he became a hit-man in the first place. To say any more would be to spoil what is a gradual peeling away of the layers that slowly reveal who Conrad Hirst really is, and the truth of his world. A wonderful book- a look at the meaning and value of life to someone who is existing, rather than living.


Arnaldur Indridason’s JAR CITY [TAINTED BLOOD]. Intriguing, great characters, and a really excellent translation. But don’t read it if you’re feeling miserable on a rainy day :o)


The toughest choice, so I warn you in advance that I am definitely going to cheat here :o)
Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE set in the malevolent Ozarks-country noir with fascinating characters and the most gorgeous writing that brings a lump to my throat is one choice. One of my favourite books ever.
Or should I choose William Lindsay Gresham’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY (the noir film with Tyrone Power was based on this book , but had a slightly upbeat ending that just doesn’t appear in the book). Shadows and sleaze at their best. 
Or maybe I should choose one of Richard S. Prather’s brilliant romps featuring PI SHELL SCOTT. The books are sexist, funny and totally over the top. Shell can fight off 6 bad guys and suffer horrendous injuries, but still has the time and the energy to bed several hot tomatoes [usually a blonde, a brunette and  a redhead] all before breakfast. 
There are some great one-liners: “she wore a V-necked white blouse as if she were the gal who’d invented the cleavage.”

Thanks very much Donna for your stimulating comments along with your very interesting choices. Some more books for my TBR Everest.
More Dartmoor Dozen choices can be seen at Petrona here, and here, here, here and in the comments here.
If I have left anyone out apologies and please let me have the link and I will add it to the list.


After all the international interest in the Dartmoor Dozen Challenge obviously the next step was to have a talented guest blogger on Crime Scraps. 

So I like to thank  author, and panel moderator at Crime Fest, Donna Moore for giving us her choices.  I have to admit she wasn’t my first choice but Helena Handbasket wanted her fee paid in Euros or US dollars! So your cheque is in the post Donna. ;o)

Donna’s dozen:


I think it would have to be Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT-alienation, despair, torment, fear and sin-add chocolate and a nice pair of shoes and that’s just the perfect Friday night out.


Well, it’s got to be the man himself and probably, the story THE ADVENTURE OF THE DANCING MEN because I loved trying to work out what the little men stood for. Kept me amused for hours, although Holmes himself is often so smug that I would probably end up whacking him over the head with a meerschaum.


I think I might be cheating here, but I’m not going to let that stop me. Although I read every single Agatha Christie and most D.L. Sayers books, when I was about 11 or 12, and loved every last one of them, today I’m not a big Golden Age fan, so my choice is the lesser known writer Norbert Davis, whose THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN was published in 1943. Doan is a chubby, harmless-looking PI who is living proof that appearances can be deceptive. In reality he’s actually quite ruthless and hard-nosed. His actions and personality are what you would expect of a cynical 1940s PI. The fact that he looks like everyone’s favourite uncle is something he uses to his advantage. His partner, Carstairs, is an extremely intelligent Great Dane who’s so huge he should actually be a whole new species. Carstairs has never really forgiven Doan for winning him in  a craps game, and gets his own back by growling every time Doan has a drink. Carstairs growls an awful lot.


Ah, this is more my thing. And there is an easy choice for me-Raymond Chandler. “It was a blonde-a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” 
I love his one-liners and I’m just  a little bit in love with Philip Marlowe- a wisecracking tough guy who’s moral and incorruptible and Raymond Chandler said of his hero “I think he might seduce a duchess, and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin”. I think I’d be telling Phil my name was Duchess Donna. Difficult to choose which one, but probably THE BIG SLEEP- two dangerous female characters in one book. 


STEWART PAWSON’S CHARLIE PRIEST SERIES. I love the interplay between the police characters, and Charlie is a really nice bloke and a good policeman. Unlike a lot of other fictional policemen he gets on with his superiors and does his paperwork. His methods might be a little iffy sometimes but only when it’s the only way to see justice done. He doesn’t let the awful things he sees get him down, he’s got an irreverent sense of humour, but he’s quick to spot when anyone is troubled and treats them with respect and sensitivity. As a result, he’s earned the respect and admiration of his peers, his superiors, and also his subordinates. He works hard and is a thorough investigator, but he is also quite gifted in the study of human nature. If I was ever in need of a policeman, it would be Charlie I would want to see at my front door. I can’t choose which one -they are all good. 


Gosh, tough category. I love PI novels so this is really really hard. But I’ll make  a decision and choose Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. The choice of which in the series is much easier-THE DRAMATIST. The ending made me burst embarrassingly into tears at Prestwick Airport :o) However I would recommend that anyone new to Bruen start at the beginning with THE GUARDS. And if you like irreverent policemen then his Brant series is also highly recommended. Brant is the anti- Charlie Priest. He’s disgusting brash, insulting, sexist, everything-ist. He doesn’t just bend the law, he stomps all over it with hobnail boots. He’s great fun to read about, proabaly less fun to meet in person. I’d definitely want him on my side in a crisis though.

[Great stuff Donna, to be continued]  


Posted: February 25, 2009 in Uncategorized


Thanks to German blogger Bernd Kochanowski the Dartmoor Dozen was picked up on the web site of the Stuttgart Zeitung here

This is part of the article translated by Google! I like the “criminal also enthusiastic”.

“The, mystery readers’ bloggende Bernd Kochanowski has responded to the blog of the criminal also enthusiastic Uriah Robinson a head Proviant list discovered. Robinson has over twelve books, to a hitherto Krimiunerfahrenen, which incidentally in a hut on Dartmoor eingeschneit sits, the diversity of the genre could explain. The isolation scenario is no mere gimmick. The books should eingeschneiten thriller novices so spellbound suggest that he is not the whole time with the empty cell phone battery at odds. And they should be in a row can be read without fatigue, and hunger to provoke change.” 

The complete article in German with their list of chosen books is here.

Bernd’s own list at his blog Krimileser can be seen here.

Thanks to Dorte of DJS Krimiblog for the information via Maxine’s Friend Feed Room where the chat is all about crime.


I finished reading Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Croft a few days ago. 

This novel was first published in 1924 and shows it in the style, in which complicated plot and puzzle predominate at the expense of character development. Some people say that this “humdrum” style [a phrase coined by Julian Symons in his book Bloody Murder] also puts puzzle above realism and dialogue, but I think the stilted nature of the action and the formal dialogue is probably realistic for the time. 

England between the wars was a place dominated by labour disputes, poverty and massive class differences. A country in which domestic service and mining were among the main occupations. Then the readers of crime fiction novels wanted escapism and exotic characters, not that much different from today really, and that is probably why the writers who created the more eccentric detectives have survived better than those with the “humdrum” ones.

“For sheer dexterity of plot, Mr Crofts has no peer among the contemporary writers of detective fiction.” S.S.Van Dine

Well I was very disappointed with Inspector French, who was a likeable enough character, but only a pipe and slippers man helped on occasions by Mrs Croft when she had a “notion”. There are no terrible vices like Holmes and his drugs, foreign eccentricity like Hercule Poirot or exotic hobbies like Nero Wolfe with his orchids as well as his gargantuan appetite for the staid New Scotland Yard Inspector. He goes about his investigations in a systematic manner traveling by a bewildering array of transport [bus, tube, taxi, boat and train] to his various interviews.

The plot puzzle was also rather easy to unravel as there was only a limited list of suspects, while the action consisted of numerous trips by boat and train to European locations and rather bland interviews. 
The quaintness and dated nature of the story was exaggerated by the fact one character spent a week in Chamonix spending only £20, and the frequency of the British train service. [Freeman Wills Croft was a railway engineer and that shows as well]
The denouement was extremely melodramatic in a very stiff upper lip English way that rounded off the ambience of 1924. [The excellent Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire was set at the Paris Olympics that year when Eric Liddle and Harold Abrahams won gold medals for Britain]
I know it has been a very long time since I read any Christie or Sayers but I think I will have to go back to compare their style with that of Freeman Wills Croft.

There were a few tiny glimpses of character development and social commentary in the book that reminded you of Europe’s terrible post Great War suffering. I expect the bits of the story that seem mundane and boring to us must have seemed exciting to the exhausted readership of 1924. 

‘It was hard lines on elderly men when they had to give up their jobs and start life again. It was that damned war, responsible for this and most of the troubles of the times. It had probably made  a difference to the Inspector also?
“Lost my eldest,” said French gruffly, and turned the conversation back to the late principal.’

As a portrait of  England, it’s class structure and transport system, after the Great War and as part of the history of crime fiction this novel is very interesting and well worth reading; but as an example of a “Golden Age” of detective fiction I have my doubts. 

11] If SMOKE is made into a movie who would you suggest to play the parts of Hannah and Boris?

For Hannah, I like Carice van Houten (from Black Book), Naomi Watts (from The Painted Veil and King Kong), or Jodie Foster. I see Sebastian Koch, also from Black Book and The Lives of Others as Boris.

12] Many historical novels seem awkward because the dialogue seems too modern. In contrast the dialogue in SMOKE is very evocative of the era did you do anything special to achieve this accuracy?

I’m glad you liked the dialogue, thank you! I read many diaries written during the time the book was set to hear the voices and the language. I also read newspapers from the time to see what people were interested in, what jokes they thought were funny, what fashions they were wearing, etc.

If I couldn’t get a line correct, I sometimes translated it into German and back into English. Painstaking, but effective. I am very meticulous with my dialogue and do numerous rewrites to make sure that each character’s voice is distinctive.

13] The symbolism of the handkerchiefs of various kinds where did that idea come from?

Thank you for noticing! You are the first person to comment on it.

In the original version, I had sections written in Ernst Vogel’s voice. I warned the reader that these sections were coming by having someone pull out one of his red silk handkerchiefs. Later, when I took these sections out, I liked the idea of pulling the reader visually back to him with the symbol of the handkerchief, because a character is touching something he touched. I can’t say more without a spoiler.

The other handkerchiefs were chosen as character details, for example, Rudolf’s lace trimmed handkerchief barely keeping the blood off his hands. 

14] Do you think that using a real historical figure like Ernst rohm was important to the story? Hannah seems even to express admiration for Rohm at one point.

Using a real figure adds a sense of verisimilitude to the book. I’ve received comments like “A gay man could not have climbed so high in the Nazi hierarchy”. Yet, that one did.
I don’t think Hannah admires Ernst Rohm, but she respects him. 
He was a very powerful, very dangerous man. Unlike many of the other Nazis, however, he also followed a strict warrior code. While the code itself might not have always been laudable, at least it was predictable, so I think she knew that she could trust him to keep his word and to behave in a predictable manner under certain circumstances. 

15] The good news is that there will be another Hannah Vogel book out in 2010 and from the title A Night of Long Knives I am assuming Ernst Rohm will be back, but will the “brave” Anton and handsome Boris feature again?

Thank you! I am quite happy that Hannah’s getting at least one more book.

Ernst Rohm will be back, although anyone who knows the history knows it won’t end well for him. Other characters from the first book will reappear as well, including Anton and Boris. 1934 was a much darker time, so even the characters that do reappear are changed.

I’ve also added more historical characters to the second book: Theodor Eicke (creator of the concentration camp system), Bella Fromm (Jewish aristocrat and journalist who helped others to flee), Sefton Delmer (British newsman and spy), and Hitler himself appears in a few scenes.

Thanks again Rebecca. Good luck with the book [which is published in May] it certainly deserves to be a great success.

Thank you for your insightful questions, and your kind words. My fingers are crossed(or, as they say in German, I’m pushing on my thumbs). 

I will be running a competition to win a signed copy of A Trace of Smoke next month.

The first three parts of this interview can be read here, here, and here; the review of A Trace of Smoke is here.  

My review of Brodek’s Report by Philippe Claudel has been posted on Euro Crime here

It is nice to be able to agree with the blurb on the front cover: “A magnificent book” Le Monde 


This is the third post from my interview with Rebecca Cantrell. I decided to post the entire interview, rather than edit it, because I thought her debut novel A Trace of Smoke was outstanding, and also I found the answers to my questions very interesting; they showed what an incredible amount of thought and effort had gone into the creation of the novel. I hope you agree.

7] How much of your task as an author do you think is to entertain and how much to educate?

I set out to tell Hannah and Ernst’s stories in such a way that the reader would be transported there, able to see what they saw and hear what they heard. By recreating the visceral experience of their lives, I hope to entertain the reader and let him or her form their own opinion. 
A novel is not a textbook, but it was very important to me to be as historically accurate as possible. I was very conscious of the amount of historical burden that the characters, and Berlin, had to carry. I constantly struggled with how much information was enough to give a sense of each place and each moment in time without overwhelming the reader.

8] Is the fictional heroine of SMOKE crime reporter Hannah Vogel based on a real person modern or historical?

Not really, although I do have a school friend in Berlin who is every bit as sarcastic and tough as Hannah.

9] Anton, the 5 -year old “Indian brave”, is a charming creation is he based on a real child or a fictional character?

Anton too is fictional, but I borrowed his manner of speech from the Flying Deer character in Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives. While I was writing A Trace of Smoke, I also spent a great deal of time with some very charming five -year-old boys. Anton is a smart and savvy little boy, but he is still five and doesn’t quite have the same boundaries between reality and fantasy that Hannah does, which makes for some interesting interactions.

10] You managed to deal with fairly controversial subjects [gay clubs, male cross-dressing and homosexuality] in a very matter of fact way. Did you find this difficult?

Weimar Berlin was a time of tolerance and openness and Hannah is a matter of fact person, so there was no other way to deal with those issues in the book. I had a gay host brother when I lived in Berlin, and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. I still have friends in the gay community there. Those are simply parts of their life experiences.

It was much more difficult reading about the impending Nazi takeover and taking a roll call of the vibrant and brilliant people who would soon be dead.

11] Many regarded Berlin during the Weimar Republic as a decadent city and the subsequent backlash possibly helped the Nazis grab power. Do you think our very liberal society combined with the recent economic downturn will produce some kind of fascist backlash?

I certainly hope not. The United States, at least, has tended to lean left in times of economic turmoil voting in Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Barack Obama now.

It’s also worth pointing out that the current economic downturn is nowhere near as severe as the one suffered by Germany after World War I. Not only was their economy failing, but they also had to deal with the huge loss of life in the First World war, the influenza and starvation shortly afterward, complete collapse of the currency, massive war reparations, and millions of unemployed young men who saw no hope for their future.

As decadent as Berlin was, National Socialism evolved in and always had as its greatest supporters in the more conservative Southern Germany. People can start looking for others to blame in any kind or stressful situation, or hope that a return to “traditional values” (whether or not those values ever existed) will solve all their problems. Let’s hope that does not happen now.

[to be continued] 


Posted: February 20, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have gone back to the Feedjit facts page here and it seems on the basic image version no details are published on the blog itself and it is possible to optionally get your browser ignored. I hope this is correct but if this is not please let me know, and I will remove the offending widget. 

This may be tricky to check as it frequently gets the location 40 miles out, but I am not really interested in your exact location just your country’s flag appearing on the site. 

Thanks to everyone who commented and gave me their opinions on this matter.  

I have started reading Inspector French’s Greatest Case and the change of style is hard going. The author  Freeman Wills Croft was Chief Assistant Engineer at Belfast Counties Railway and some of the narrative reads like a train timetable.

The quaintness and dated nature of the story  [1924] is exemplified by lines such as:

“Is there a postal delivery between half past four and the time your office closes?” 

and “An Oxford Street bus brought him to the end of Hatton Garden….”

I am old enough to remember trams and two postal deliveries a day, but did Detective Inspectors from New Scotland Yard travel by bus in 1924? 

“A visit to Colonel FitzGeorge was undoubtedly his next step. He picked up a Bradshaw. Yes, there would be time to go that night. A train left Paddington at 8.10 which would bring him to Reading before 9.00.”

It is passages like that which makes one realise that the world in 1924 was a lot closer to Jack Whicher’s 1860 or Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 than to the Ed McBain or Sjowall and Wahloo police procedurals of the 1960s. For one thing Inspector French is conducting a Europe wide investigation [London, Amsterdam, Chamonix, Barcelona] on his own by train!

I’ll probably get more into the novel in a few more pages.

[A Bradshaw is a railway timetable not a Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback]