Archive for June, 2009

My review of the second book in Brian McGilloway’s Ben Devlin series is on Euro Crime here. There is certainly enough scope for plots in that location on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic for this series to run and run.

She put the cups down with such force that the contents sloshed on to the paperwork on the desk. Decko tutted and rolled his eyes as she left, but still thanked her politely for her help.
“Jesus,’ he said once she ‘d shut the door. “If she wasn’t me sister , I’d fire her.”

You can read a review of the third Inspector Devlin Mystery, Bleed A River Deep here.


While Devon basks in a summer mini heat wave I read August Heat the latest of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries to be translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli.

I would not go as far as saying I was a Montalbano maven but I can’t get enough of Camilleri’s brilliant books.
You can read my article Appreciating Camilleri on the Picador Blog. [Picador were kind enough to provide August Heat, and the Camilleri article was written through the good offices of Maxine, Lady Petrona]

In a blistering Sicilian summer Montalbano manages to book a last minute holiday house for his girlfriend Livia’s best friend Laura, her husband Guido and their problem child three year old Bruno. A series of mishaps occur which culminate in Bruno going missing, but Montalbano finds that he has fallen into a secret apartment built underneath the house and the child is rescued.
But this is not the end of Montalbano’s problems there is a trunk in the apartment and in it he finds the body of a beautiful young woman wrapped in plastic.
Montalbano, with the assistance of the smart cop Fazio, and the less smart but devoted Catarella begin to investigate a complex case that involves the suspicious death of an Arab labourer, a mysterious disappearance and the temptation of a beautiful young woman.

In August Heat, the tenth of the Montalbano books to be published in English, Andrea Camilleri gives us another superb portion of all the charming idiosyncrasies that make this series so enjoyable. The plot may not be the strongest but the Montalbano books have never been about plot, but all about the detective’s relationships with his team, his sycophantic superiors, his stomach, his housekeeper, Livia and the various other women who drift in and out of his world.

In this episode we get once again the contrast between the amusing humour and the horrific crime, but the writing is getting sharper as Montalbano ages.
This is one of the best books in the series but it has a sad undertone as questions are asked as Montalbano struggles to cope with the heat and his emotions.
Is he losing his judgement? Has he completely lost what little respect he had for the law? Has he become just another sad middle aged lonely man?

This is a brilliant short novel containing brief tributes to both Conan Doyle, and Sjowall and Wahloo, as well as numerous typical Camilleri gems.
I can highly recommend it for a pleasant summer read.

Spitaleri had come in a black Ferrari. Which increased the inspector’s dislike for the developer. Having a Ferrari in a small town was like keeping a lion in your apartment’s bathroom.

And at Enzo’s Trattoria:

“How about a few big platters of antipasto di mare with shrimps, prawns, baby octopus, anchovies, sardines, mussels and clams?”
“Sounds good. And for second course?”

“Mullet in onions: served cold a delight.”


Posted: June 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have now finished reading The Ignorance of Blood finding it to be a satisfying exciting thriller and far more than a simple shoot-em-up.

Robert Wilson concentrates on the characters as well as the action while reviewing the stresses and strains on those who work in the police and the intelligence services. This is top quality writing and importantly the plot even with the numerous twists and turns is believable.
There was a program recently about the British who move to Spain and some of the problems they encounter with uncompleted housing developments, illegal building on rustic land and businesses affected by the recession. There are bigger problems….

“If we get through this I’m never going to the Costa del Sol ever again in my life,” said Consuelo.
“Nothing’s changed in the Costa del Sol for the last forty years. Why withdraw your custom now?”
“Because it’s only now I have faced up to what these people have been doing.” said Consuelo. “Almost every apartment building, every development, every golf course, marina, fun park, casino – every source of recreation for visiting tourists is built on the profit from human misery.”

Robert Wilson won the CWA Gold Dagger with A Small Death in Lisbon, the book that introduced me to this author, and The Ignorance of Blood is a definite contender for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.

“You don’t want to tell me do you, Javier? What could be worse than the Russian Mafia?”

Robert Wilson writes erudite and well researched thrillers and his Javier Falcon series set in Seville deals boldly with subjects we would rather forget in our everyday lives.

The Ignorance of Blood is the fourth in a quartet of books and it was preceded by The Hidden Assassins which I reviewed here and here.

Javier Falcon, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidos, has promised the citizens of Seville he will catch those responsible for the bombing that occurred in the opening pages of The Hidden Assassins. Luckily Robert Wilson gives us a handy update of Javier Falcon’s ongoing investigation into that bombing and the associated murders.

“In that period around the 6th June bombing there were five expressions of violence.
The first was the murder of Tateb Hassani, who was vital to the conspiracy for his drafting in Arabic script of the extremists’ plans for taking over Andalucia…………

The second expression of violence was the bomb itself which, as I said, was designed to point the finger at Muslim extremism, whilst increasing the prestige of Fuerza Andalucia, making them the preferred partners of the ruling Partido Popular.’

“The third, presumably were Esteban Calderon’s murder of his wife,” said Zorrita, which derailed the investigation into the Seville bombing.”
“And four and five were the executions of Lucrezio Arenas and Cesar Benito,” said Falcon. “They had to be killed once we had caught the other half of the conspiracy,because there were direct links between them. It would only be a matter of time before Arenas and Benito gave up the bombers they had employed.”
“So there’s a clear motive in every case.’
“Except Calderon,’ said Falcon.

Javier Falcon begins to believe that perhaps Calderon, the investigating judge in the bombing case, did not murder his wife Ines [who happens to be Falcon’s ex wife] but was set up by his beautiful Cuban mistress Marisa Moreno at the instigation of the Russian Mafia.
Javier and Cristina Ferrera, a detective who is an ex-nun, question Marisa on her connections with terrifying consequences for Javier’s girlfriend Consuelo Jimenez.
While Yacoub, Javier’s Moroccan friend who is spying for the Spanish Government Intelligence CNI is faced with a terrible dilemma.
I am now on page 225 with a long way to go but this is an enjoyable but violent novel. Even though we suspect Javier Falcon is on the right track and it seems a simple thriller you do have to concentrate to grasp the interrelations between the characters and follow the complexities of the story.

“What do you mean , they don’t have CCTV? she asked.
“Why don’t you have CCTV? In England I’ve heard they have CCTV everywhere…..even on roundabouts in the middle of nowhere.”

Thanks to Harper Collins for supplying the book. To be continued.


Posted: June 23, 2009 in Uncategorized


Yesterday I blithely eliminated authors with two International Daggers, two Nordic Glass Keys and a British CWA Gold Dagger between them from consideration for the 2009 International Dagger.

Today I will decide between books by Karin Alvtegen, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Johan Theorin.
Next year 2010 I have a feeling that Larsson, Nesbo and Theorin will be the main contenders again, but here goes for 2009. Feel free to tell me I am wrong, I am used to it.
Firstly any one of the four books [see links to reviews here] would be a worthy winner, but I have to be hypercritical to eliminate contenders.

Shadow by Karin Alvetegen, is a bit predictable and the basic plot is a little bit derivative. It is still a brilliant read if a bit bleak.
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, I don’t think is quite as good as some of his other books but with Nesbo that means 9/10 as opposed to his usual 9.5/10.

I will therefore be very harsh and eliminate these two books. That leaves the Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, with the awesome character of Lisbeth Salander, and Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin a superbly constructed novel, good characters, atmosphere and a final twist in the story.
I am a bit embarrassed having met Steven Murray and Don Bartlett the charming translators of the other three books, but Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin would be my choice.
Johan Theorin won the Nordic Glass Key and Best Swedish Crime Novel for his second book Nattfak this year, and Echoes From The Dead won the Best First Novel in 2008.

There was once a Golden Age of the English Detective Novel and surely we are now in a new Nordic Golden Age of crime fiction.
The interesting point is that where Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills Croft and company constructed plots that were not much more than escapist fantasy to ordinary people, the Nordic writer’s plots are much closer to our everyday experience of life.


There are some interesting polls at Mysteries from Paradise on how many of the six International Dagger nominated books you have read [now closed], and two polls running till 14 July at Euro Crime one about who you think will win and one about who you want to win.

I have now read all of the six nominated books and you can read my reviews if you follow the appropriate links:

Echoes From The Dead: Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Arctic Chill: Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb

The Chalk Circle Man: Fred Vargas, translated by Sian Reynolds

The Girl Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland

The Redeemer: Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

Shadow: Karin Alvtegen, translated by McKinley Burnett

How will the judges decide between such an outstanding collection of novels?

I would not like to have to make such a difficult choice but I would start by eliminating the weakest book or books from consideration.

This process is helped by the fact that first Adamsberg novel by Fred Vargas , The Chalk Circle Man [translated out of order], is not up to the standard of her later books. Fred Vargas of course won the International Dagger in 2006 with The Three Evangelists and in 2007 with Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, a later Adamsberg novel.

I would then eliminate Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, which might seem a bit harsh because this is a very good straightforward police procedural, but it lacks the twists and turns that would make it stand out. It simply is not as good a story as his previous novels, The Draining Lake, or Voices.

Now with four brilliant Scandinavian books to choose from the elimination process gets even more difficult.
[To be continued]


Posted: June 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have had a Feedjit and Sitemeter on Crime Scraps since 18th February and yesterday I had a welcome visitor from Dhaka in Bangladesh. This was the 100th nation to visit the site since February which I think shows the world wide appeal of crime fiction.

As well as the 100 countries [I counted England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as four] there have been flags from the European Union, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.


Posted: June 19, 2009 in Uncategorized


When Gerda Persson takes her last breath at the age of 92 neither the police nor home help have managed to find a relative to take care of funeral arrangements and tidy her affairs.

The district commission’s estate administrator Marianne Folkesson is given the task and finds, in Gerda’s apartment, books with personal dedications from the author acclaimed Nobel Prize winner, Axel Ragnerfeldt.

Axel Ragnerfeldt is in a nursing home, a stroke having left him paralysed and unable to speak. Marianne contacts his son Jan-Erik, who lectures about his father’s work, sets up charitable foundations, and sleeps with available women who come to his lectures. His marriage has become a farce, sex with his wife Louise non- existent, while he virtually ignores his daughter Ellen.
Louise spends her money on breast surgery, runs a smart boutique and remembers the time when she was a published poet. Her mother in law Alice drinks, watches television, mourns a dead child, and thinks about her own long lost writing career. Both women have been destroyed by their husbands and the overbearing Ragnerfeldt legend.

Gerda Persson was the Ragnerfeldt’s house keeper during Jan-Erik’s childhood and he remembers her looking after them before he left to live in the USA for a few years.

The old servant has left all her estate to Kristoffer Sandeblom, a disturbed young playwright who is ashamed that he is a foundling, and has only one friend the equally inadequate Jesper.

Marianne contacts Kristoffer and in the days before Gerda’s funeral he wonders if he will find the reason his parents abandoned him. Jan-Erik, his marriage collapsing, searches his parents old house for a photo of Gerda and discovers secrets that were better left buried.
Kristoffer wonders why a man called Torgny Wennberg, an old associate of Axel Ragnerfeldt, has said he will come to Gerda’s funeral, and decides to make contact with Jan-Erik.

This is a complicated and complex novel which paints a very bleak picture of humanity with its cast of socially damaged characters. The most damaged is Halina, a Holocaust survivor, who becomes infatuated with Axel and this is the precursor to the future disasters.
Author Karin Alvtegen with a series of flashbacks and backstories sets out to explain why her characters are so desperately unhappy and as she peels back the outer shell of their lives we discover some terrible secrets on the way to a brutal ending.
The translation by McKinley Burnett [aka Steven Murray, aka Reg Keeland] is excellent, as usual, and this helps makes the novel unputdownable.

The book succeeds on many levels but especially as a lesson that once you take that first shaky step away from the straight and narrow you have no idea where it may lead. This book like the other Alvtegen novel I have read Betrayal is brilliantly written and plotted; but it is very dark definitely not a cheerful read.

“We’re not equals.”
“What do you mean by that?’
She still had her back turned away from him.
“Because I’m content and you’re not. You’re always chasing after what you imagine you could become.”
Gerda went back to whisking, marking the end of their talk. Axel sat speechless, contemplating her words. And realised that he’d received the most serious insult of his life.

This novel won the Danish Academy of Crime Writers Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, and I would not be surprised if it won further awards.
You can read an excellent review of Shadow here.


Posted: June 18, 2009 in Uncategorized


The four play meme has become one the most popular on the web and features on several crime fiction sites such as The Rap Sheet, Reactions to Reading, Detectives Beyond Borders, Big Beat from Badsville and Mysteries in Paradise. Apologies if I have left anyone out.

If you type “four play meme” into google the “numero uno” position is occupied by Crimeficreader.

I have decided to dip in to this meme but as is my usual habit alter it slightly to reflect more emphasis on crime fiction. So here is my variation of a meme:

1] FOUR places I have visited in Europe partially inspired by reading crime fiction:

Perugia, Italy- Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen book Ratking
Stockholm, Sweden- Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: The Martin Beck series
Amsterdam, Netherlands- Nicholas Freeling’s Van Der Valk series
Paris, France- Georges Simenon’s Maigret series

2] FOUR places I have visited in the USA partially inspired by reading crime fiction:

Canyon du Chelly, Window Rock, Arizona and Acoma Pueblo, and Gallup, New Mexico- Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Navajo Mysteries [this visit was totally inspired by the Hillerman books]

Boston, Massachusetts- Robert Parker, the Spenser books
Fredericksburg, Virginia- the early Patricia Cornwell books
San Francisco- The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

3] FOUR places I want to visit before I die.

Sicily- In view of the fact that I have lauded Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano book so many times I am ashamed to admit I have never been to Sicily. The furthest south in Italy I have been is Paestum, south of Salerno.

Venice- Donna Leon’s Brunetti
Oslo-Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole
Bruges- The film In Bruges

4] FOUR of the beautiful places I have visited:

The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg Kentucky
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Siena, Italy
Florence, Italy

That is “four by four” so all for now but I will come back to this meme in the future.


Posted: June 17, 2009 in Uncategorized


By special request Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels in order.

  • 1997 – Flaggermusmannen; English translation: The Bat Man
  • 1998 – Kakerlakkene; English translation: The Cockroaches
  • 2000 – Rødstrupe; English translation: The Redbreast (2006)
  • 2002 – Sorgenfri; English translation: Nemesis (2008)
  • 2003 – Marekors; English translation: The Devil’s Star (2005)
  • 2005 – Frelseren; English translation: The Redeemer (2009)
  • 2007 – Snømannen; English translation: The Snowman
  • All the English translations are by Don Bartlett