Archive for March, 2009


Posted: March 30, 2009 in Uncategorized


My choices have so far not been very adventurous. Conan Doyle, Christie, Sjowall and Wahloo, and then Raymond Chandler are hardly surprising picks but they are a solid introduction to crime fiction, and therefore I can be a bit more eccentric in my next choice.

The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes by K.C.Constantine [I love the title] says on the cover it is a Mario Balzic detective novel, but Mario does more talking and thinking than he does detecting. The novel is much more interested in the people and their situations than the mystery. 

Balzic is the police chief of an economically depressed fictional Western Pennsylvania rust belt town called Rocksburg. The novel written in 1983 is a study of that town, its inhabitants and their problems. 
The interrelations of husbands, wives, parents, race, religion, class and politics are more important than the plot. This novel is primarily a social commentary on the heartland of America and the many depressed small towns where the people, including Mario Balzic, are angry and cling to their guns and their religion. [With apologies to President Obama] 

The city council are negotiating with the police union and we can judge that it is a very ethnic town from their names:

“they being for the city, Mayor Angelo Bellotti; Councilman Louis Del Vito, chairman of the Safety Committe; and Solicitor Peter Renaldo; and for the police, Lieutenant Angelo Clemente………Fraternal order of Police president Wall Stuchinsky, a state cop; and Joseph Czekaj, FOP solicitor.”

Mario Balzic is half Serb half Italian, a less politically correct terminology is used, in a town with some characters who would clearly be at home in a Sciascia or Camilleri novel. 

Renaldo was in his early thirties; his father had been a coal miner and worked all the overtime he could get to make sure his son got through college and law school so he would never have to spend  a minute in  the mines, and now Balzic knew, the son despised the father for being a miner, an immigrant, and, worst of all, uneducated.

And in another passage. 

Belotti was good at what he did and what he did was make people believe it was in their interest to have him for a friend. It was a good thing he had few appetites. There was no telling what he could steal if he had more.

Good writers can say so much with so few words.

I have to declare an interest in that I love small town USA as my first trip there thirty years ago involved a bus trip through Western Pennsylvania, and we have stayed with friends in the Eastern part of the state where there are many Orthodox churches and the people all seem to have surnames with no vowels. The heartland is a wonderfully hospitable place once you get used to having the only car in the restaurant car park with everyone else driving a pick up truck with a gun rack. 

One of my favourite memories of these small towns was a poster we saw in North Carolina in 2001 which said “My boss is a Jewish carpenter”. 
After seeing a few of these posters I was impressed that a Jew could build a successful business in the Southern Bible belt where the Klan had been a factor in the past.

Then I had an epiphany and realized the identity of the Jewish carpenter. 

Read The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes as a guide to the world of small town ethnic America and its values, a world away from Los Angeles, Florida and New York. 

[to be continued] 

Time is running out to enter the draw to win a signed copy of A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell. You can read all about the book, the excellent reviews it has received and my interview with the author here

and here.

I have had one correct answer so far  but I will clarify the question:

Four men held a job in succession A, B, C, D

A. Went on to be a Professor at Harvard and died at Norwich, Vermont.
B. Served prison time for alleged war crimes
C. Was murdered along with his wife.
D. Committed suicide.

Who was A? 

Send your answers to by the end of the month please. 


Posted: March 28, 2009 in Uncategorized


A very lengthy meeting and a hundred  miles of driving yesterday and yet another Steering Group [rearranging the chairs on the Titanic] meeting next Thursday so I am a bit shredded at the moment. Many of the characters at these meetings could easily feature in a Jo Nesbo or Andrea Camilleri novel. 

I thought I had finished with committee meetings where people [who could sell Talmuds in Teheran] talk for two hours and nothing is decided years ago when I retired. But it was a good interlude to get me thinking again about the next two categories in my Dartmoor Dozen. 


I read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler many years ago but dipping into the book again I think it was ahead of its time [1955] because it seems to me to be  more about the characters and society than about the plot. Chandler’s writing is masterly as he mixes violence and humour with a subtle touch. 
Here he describes the lot of a P.I.:

‘Sometimes you get beaten up or shot or tossed into the jailhouse. Once in a while you get dead. Every other month you decide to give it up and find some sensible occupation while you can still walk without shaking your head. Then the door buzzer rings and you open the inner door to the waiting room and there stands a new face with a new problem, a new load of grief, and a small piece of money.’

What clinched this choice for me is Chandler’s classification of blondes ending with this passage:

‘And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d’Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shop worn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent -mindedness of an elderly duke saying good night to his butler.’


My choice is The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I have written previously about this brilliant book here.

This is a police procedural, a locked room mystery and with the antics of Bulldozer Olsson and his robbery squad almost a comic and crime caper novel all in one.

There was an abundance of both men’s fingerprints and traces of Mauritzon’s right thumb and forefinger had even been found on one of the jam jars. 
“You realize what that means?” Bulldozer Olsson said inquisitorially.
“Yes,” said Gunvald Larsson. “That he’s circumstantially linked to a jar of whortleberry jam.” 

[to be continued] 


Hagen placed his hands behind his back. 

“What do you know about the Thirty Years War?”
“Not enough, I suppose.”

The Redeemer: Jo Nesbo

The fat man screwed up his eyes and asked: “What do you know, sir, about the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, later called the Knights of Rhodes and other things?”
Spade waved his cigar. “Not much-only what I remember from history in school-Crusaders or something.”

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

A few weeks ago BEFORE I had read any of The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo we booked a short break at Chindit House an excellent luxury bed and breakfast in Glastonbury, Somerset. 

The house was named Chindit House, when it was part of Millfield School, by the housemaster who had fought with the Chindits in Burma.

Imagine my surprise when I reached the passage in The Redeemer:

Hagen ran his forefinger, over the window frame and studied the result with displeasure. “In 1942, a mere hundred thousand Japanese soldiers conquered Burma.”

The Japanese did in the words of Harry Hole “lose the war” and in Burma that was due among other factors to the efforts of the Chindits under their charismatic commander Orde Wingate.


Posted: March 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

It is beautiful sunshine outside and I am sitting in the sun reading about one of my favourite detectives. 

Maxine at Petrona has a list of crime fiction cliches to avoid here. I agree many of these have had their day but I do love the clash of an insubordinate detective dealing with a slow witted superior when it is done well. Andrea Camilleri, Donna Leon and now Jo Nesbo have mastered the skill of producing dialogue for the detective that teeters on the brink of rudeness.

In The Redeemer Jo Nesbo’s latest novel to be translated into English Harry Hole has lost his protector Bjarne Moller and his replacement Gunnar Hagen is clearly not Harry’s sort of policeman.

“But there is a third quality I prize even higher, Hole. Can you guess what it is?”
“No,” Harry said in an even monotone.
“Discipline. Di-sci-pline.”

Hagen goes on to lecture Harry about the Japanese conquest of Burma in 1942 based on their superior discipline, and mentions the Japanese shot soldiers who drank water outside drinking times.

“Not out of sadism, but because discipline is about excising the tumours at the outset. Am I making myself clear, Hole?”

Harry is dismissed but remains seated and Hagen asks.

“Anything else, Hole?”
“Mm, I was wondering. Didn’t the Japanese lose the war?”  


Posted: March 21, 2009 in Uncategorized


I have not posted my own Dartmoor Dozen because Uriah and Norm have been arguing about which books to put in the list. 
But if you go here, scroll down and follow the links you will find some excellent books chosen by more learned reviewers.
I have been distracted over the past few days by upcoming meetings regarding the Honeytones [who recently won a £10,000 lottery grant] and CARE Blackerton, as well as watching the series Red Riding which I did not enjoy it was too “cult” for me, with the violence and one sexual encounter leaving nothing to the imagination.

Well after all the arguments here are my choices:


I have chosen a non fiction book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale because it  tells a true story that inspired authors Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle.


Well it has to be the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes  and the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles simply because the Dartmoor setting that would add to the terror of the story. When the mist is thick on the moor you can drive past the prison without even catching a glimpse of  it. And the really frightening thing is it can be bright sunshine near Bovey Tracey and yet on another part of the moor the mist will be very thick with visibility on a few yards.

Holmes is of course a unique creation and his relationship with Watson I don’t think has ever been surpassed in crime fiction or any fiction for that matter.

“Has anything escaped me?” I asked with some self-importance. “I trust there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?”

“I am afraid my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth….”


Part of the appeal of the Golden Age Detective Fiction for readers was the escapist fantasy of getting away from what for many in England, between the wars, was a fairy miserable existence to the exotic world of the rich. I would therefore choose to represent this period with Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel Death on the Nile
I think it is a fine example of Christie’s skill at plotting with a wonderful twist in the story, a great detective probably only second to Holmes in the pantheon of fictional detectives in Hercule Poirot, and some of the politically incorrect nonsense that makes the books of this period so much fun to read. I must read this one again some time.

“I think he must be the fat one with the closely shaved head and the moustache. A German, I should imagine. He seems to be enjoying his soup very much.” Certain succulent noises floated across to them.     

[to be continued]

I forgot to mention in my review of Borkmann’s Point that there is a spoiler/tribute in the story to The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. So if you are someone who does not know plot and wants to read this Christie novel it is best to do so before you read Borkmann’s Point. 

Another random quote, this time from an author who with his latest novel will probably reinforce his position as one of my favourite European crime writers:

Had he been stealing money, embezzling? He could be the type to work with figures. But not the big sums. His attractive wife notwithstanding, he looked more the kind who helped himself to small change here and there. He might have been unfaithful, might even have slept with the wife of the wrong man. No. As a rule, short men with above average assets and wives much more attractive than themselves are more concerned with her infidelity. The man annoyed him. 

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is on holiday on the coast near the coastal town of Kaalbringen when two men are brutally murdered with an axe. The local police chief is just days away from retirement so Van Veeteren and Munster are drafted in to help with the investigation.

Then a third man is killed  by the axeman.  There appears to be no link between the victims, a drug addict jailbird, a wealthy but not very pleasant businessman, and a young doctor, the son of a local consultant. 
As the investigation proceeds a brilliant and beautiful young female detective Beate Moerk goes missing.

Hakan Nesser received the first of his three Swedish Crime Writer’s Academy Best Novel Awards in 1994 for Borkmann’s Point and it was well deserved. 

I like the quirkiness and slightly eccentric nature of the chess playing Van Veeteren. But it is Hakan Nesser’s ability to blend a story of horrible crimes, and human despair, with sly humour that makes this book stand out from many others. 
There is virtually a memorable quote in every few pages, and while the twist in the plot might be fairly obvious, the sharply drawn characters and the overall depth of the story make up for this. 

On being shown Bausen’s wine cellar all ready for his retirement Van Veeteren muses:

Why haven’t I been doing something like this ? he thought. I must start digging the moment I get home! 
It might be a bit problematic in view of the fact that he lived in an apartment block, of course, but maybe he could start by purchasing the goods instead.

Mixed in with the humour as the police team thrash around like ” headless chickens” there is a very bleak story of human tragedy.

“What we can be sure of , what we can rely on absolutely, is evil. It never lets us down. Good… goodness is only a stage set, a backdrop against which the satanic performs. Nothing else …..nothing.” 


Posted: March 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Following on the Quote a Day theme I thought I would put up some random quotations from time to time, and readers can guess if they wish the identity of  the authors. The photographs have no connection with the subject except this one is taken in England.

“The English may not be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.”