Archive for August, 2009


Posted: August 31, 2009 in Uncategorized

I posted here that I was really enjoying reading Mrs D’Silva’s Detective Instincts and and the Shaitan of Calcutta and now have finished this wonderful novel.

It is 1960, the British had departed India for over a decade but the young nation is struggling to find its feet.
Joan D’Silva is a 32 year atttractive widow, with a young 10 year son Errol to bring up, who lives in Calcutta where she teaches at Don Bosco’s Catholic school.
A picnic for a group of Anglo-Indians at the shrine of Our Lady by the Hooghly near Bandle with social banter and delicious food is ruined when Errol finds the body of a young woman by the river bank.

The young woman Agnes Lal was a former pupil at Don Bosco’s and had been married off to Xavier Lal, a much older very unpleasant character, who had not consummated the marriage.
Two friends of Agnes, Philomena Thomas, who works as a nanny for the family of the managing director of Guest Keith Williams an engineering firm, and Anil Sen ask for Joan’s help to find out what happened to their friend.
But when Thomas James, GKW’s factory manager is murdered during a riot Anil Sen is arrested and forced to confess to this crime.
Joan and her friend Philip, another school teacher from Don Bosco’s, become dangerously involved in this investigation, while Dutta, the eponymous shaitan, leader of the Workers’ Revolutionary Movement of Bengal encourages his “brainwashed” followers to create havoc in the city.

Author Glen Peters repeatedly lulls the reader into a pleasant comfort zone with recipes, polite small talk, descriptions of railway journeys, the charm of the Anglo-Indian community, social gatherings and Joan D’Silva’s personal relationships.

But then he shatters your reverie bringing you back into the real world of Calcutta with its racism, murder, arson, prostitution, poverty, police brutality and enormous class divisions.

His characters are believable, sharply drawn, and range from the highly sympathetic to the venal and vile. His style is easy to read and the book beautifully produced by Parthian, although I would have placed the very useful and interesting glossary of Anglo-Indian words in use at the time at the front of the book.
This is a minor quibble as any book with a good plot, interesting characters and mouth watering recipes for Fish Molu, Lucknow Biryani and Ponga Kebabs on the cover and flaps is going to get my approval.
But “Mrs D’Silva” also has a good deal of history, political comment and social commentary about India and the Anglo-Indian community with even a Devon connection.

“I want my boys to understand a little about the great poet Tagore. Our literature curriculum is heavy on the likes of Longfellow, Yeats and Walter de la Mare but not a mention of India’s most awarded poet,” said Joan.
“Ah yes, Tagore was never quite understood by the British, despite his extensive tours to England, setting up Dartington Hall and being knighted. It was only Yeats who really appreciated him and he was Irish.”

I hope this book turns in to a series because Joan D’Silva is a charming investigator in a difficult and different location, and I am sure Glen Peters has plenty more to say about the relationship between Joan and Philip, and India and her old rulers.

“Top of the social pile of course were the Shroves, who considered themselves superior Anglo-Indians because they were by far the whitest of the four families.”

[Namaskar- a respectful greeting made by holding the palms of one’s hands together.]


Posted: August 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

My life according to books I have read in 2009.

This is a clever meme that I first spotted at Petrona, and here are links to some other thought provoking contributions from:

Describe yourself:
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes [I love that title and tomatoes]

How do you feel:
The End of the World in Breslau [bit of a headache today]

Describe where you currently live:
The Sardine Deception [it is a bit small and we are packed in tight]

If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go:
Brest Litovsk [that is the problem with reading history as well as crime fiction]

Your favourite form of transport:
The Silver Swan [taking my time]

Your best friend is:
The Einstein Girl [someone far cleverer than me]

You and your friends are:
The Reunion [always a pleasure to see friends]

What’s the weather like:
The Darkest Room [well it is Devon with not much August Heat]

Favourite time of day:
A Visible Darkness [the sun setting on the coast is beautiful]

If your life was a:
Bleeding Heart Square [ that is a bleeding heart liberal who has become cynical]

What life is to you:
The Crossroads [we make decisions every day that decide which way we go]

Your fear:
Alone in Berlin [or alone anywhere, I have spent too much time alone to enjoy it]

What is the best advice you have to give:
The Rule Book [don’t follow it blindly]

Thought for the day:
The Collaborator [let’s work together]

How would you like to die:
Die a Little [over many years without too much pain so I can get used to the idea]

My soul’s present condition:
Roses, Roses


Posted: August 29, 2009 in Uncategorized


In January I posed a question:

The answer may have been provided by the translator of the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, Reg Keeland aka Steven T Murray below. [seen here signing books at Crime Fest Bristol 2009]


The Container Lorry was a harrowing episode of Wallander in which we returned to the theme of immigration and the moral dilemma faced by those who want to make this a better world.

A socially concerned organization LLU [Life Line Unlimited] in conjunction with a convent of nuns have been bringing illegal immigrants into Sweden from Iraq.
They sincerely believe that they are bringing the families to a better and safer life in Sweden, and do not consider that the immigrants will be illegals living in a strange country and as such extremely vulnerable to exploitation relevant.

Two Iraqi children are already safely in the convent, when something goes “amiss” and an abandoned container lorry is found in a beautiful wooded area. The beauty of the area is contrasted with the rubbish round the lorry and then Linda and Svartman find nine dead bodies in the back; theses people have suffocated leaving as the solitary survivor a six month old baby.
As the investigation proceeds Kurt and his team discover that the nuns and LLU are simply being used by vicious criminals for their own purposes.

Kurt, Stefan and Linda face the horror of this investigation in different ways.
Kurt, becoming a bit of a babe magnet, sleeps with the attractive blonde Europol expert on people trafficking, before devising a clever plan.
Stefan rages at the Abbess of the convent and follows his own personal code of justice.
While Linda despite still functioning and finding important links in the case has a reaction to the constant stress and the psychological trauma of police work.

This was a very thought provoking episode that raised a lot of questions without attempting to find any real solutions, although Kurt Wallander did mention that the lack of real border controls under the EU made policing more difficult.

The wagon photographed on the left [taken at Mendenhall Plantation, Jamestown near High Point, North Carolina] is the “container lorry” of the period 1830-1860 and with its secret compartment was used to smuggle escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad to the Free States of the USA.
The Mendenhalls were Quakers who acted only with the best of motives, but I wonder how many of those freed slaves were then shipped out to Haiti, Liberia, or Freetown in Sierra Leone.


Posted: August 27, 2009 in Uncategorized

I will be reporting on today’s trip out on the 17 September as part of the Celebrating Christie Week-Blog Tour at Kerrie’s Mysteries in Paradise blog.


Posted: August 26, 2009 in Uncategorized


Many many years ago I was invited to play cricket for a club team in South West London and naturally assumed they had heard of my exceptional abilities.

The team captain then asked me quite casually if I could bring along the Indian oral surgeon, who worked for me on a part time basis. My Indian friend, also a well known superb squash player, was immediately moved into the cricket club first team while I was sent to languish among the lower echelons.

The relevance of this rambling is that I am reading Mrs D’Silva’s Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta by Glen Peters which is about the fascinating Anglo-Indian community in 1960s India.
Many thanks to publishers Parthian for the book, and to Crimeficreader for recommending this very enjoyable read [I am only half way through so far].
The book, which was published with the financial support of the Welsh Books Council is a beautifully produced and printed paperback with mouth watering recipes inside the covers and on the front flap. While food is a vitally important component of the narrative:

He then used the stock to cook the rice, giving it its rich meaty texture. Later, raisins, almonds and fried onions, and an array of various spices, in their stick and seed form, all helped to make the Biryani a complete meal rather than a mere accompaniment.

The author Glen Peters is founder of Project Rhosygilwen, a Pembrokeshire based rural arts regeneration venture and yet another Welsh connection is explained:

Except the faces here were different shades of white, black and brown and the accents an odd mix of Indo Welsh, inherited a century earlier during the construction of the railways, when the workers from West Wales, brought to India, intermarried with Indian women.

I have even managed to find a photo of Wales, although not a typical location, to go along with this post. [to be continued]

My review of The Einstein Girl by Philip Sington has been posted at Euro Crime. This complex intelligent thriller, with various subplots and back stories, was a really good thought provoking read.

I am frequently asked why I read so many books like The Einstein Girl set in the inter war years in Weimar Germany. Well they are a reminder that however bad we think things are today, they were very much worse within the lifetime of my parents and grandparents. As we approach the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War I think that is something worth remembering.


Posted: August 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


In between watching the England-Australia test on cable television [it is an outrage it is not on free terrestrial TV] I have read a brilliant book about a victorious Ashes tour to Australia.

How We Recovered The Ashes by P.F.Warner, an account of the 1903-1904 Tour of Australia.

I noted that some things remain the same even after 105 years while others are very different.

Pelham Warner England’s captain March 3, 1904:

“Hirst bowled down Cotter’s wicket, and after many long years of waiting and disappointment, the prestige of English cricket was restored. I suppose every man has a great moment in his life, and this was certainly mine…… I shall look back on the evening of March 3, 1904, as the golden evening of my cricket career, an evening of memories never to be repeated, but never to be swept away. “

Pelham Warner was wrong in that he captained [although did not play due to illness] an even greater England team to Australia regaining the Ashes once again in 1911-12.

From Pelham Warner’s speech in 1904 at the end of the tour:

“Before the first test match I said I wanted the game played in this spirit, and which ever side was beaten, they would admit themselves beaten and not put it down to bad luck, or to umpiring, or to the hundred and one reasons so often brought forward by beaten sides.”

“But Noble is not only a great cricketer, but a great captain, and a great sportsman….”

So is the present Australian captain Ricky Ponting, but his brittle team were beaten by an England team who played far better at key moments in the series.

That means there is not much difference in how test series are decided in those 105 years, but there are definitely more moustaches in 1904 than in the present England team, and the attire at team outings with wives and fiancees was slightly more formal.


Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children from a house they renovated in Stockholm’s suburbs to an old manor house at Eel Point on the western side of the island of Oland. In the 1960s Katrine’s mother and grandmother had rented part of the outbuildings, now Katrine and Joakim intend to renovate the house and live their permanently. Joakim returns to Stockholm to collect some possessions and leave the house keys, and while he is away Katrine is found drowned.

Johan Theorin tells us some of the haunting stories about tragic episodes that have occurred in the past at Eel Point, a house which seems to be cursed with bad luck.
There are other threads to the story, Oland has many summer cottages owned by “Stockholmers” which are unoccupied for most of the year, rather like many of the villages in Devon. Local man Henrik Jansson, is encouraged to return to his former ways by the half crazy Serelius brothers, Tommy and Freddy, and they begin a campaign of burglaries.
The police station in Mornas has reopened and Tilda Davidsson, fresh from training college, will be working from there investigating the burglaries while trying to recover from the recent emotional trauma of being dumped by her creepy married lover Martin. Tilda is meanwhile researching her dead grandfather’s past and the old stories about Oland by interviewing his brother, the old sea captain Gerlof Davidsson, who we met in Echoes From The Dead, Theorin’s award winning debut novel. Gerlof in his chats with Tilda suggests that perhaps Katrine Westin was murdered.

As Joakim struggles to cope with his grief at Katrine’s death he hears noises in the manor house and in the old barn. He explores the barn and discovers a mysterious room hidden behind a wall with the names of those who have died at Eel Point chiseled onto the wooden panels.
As the winter skies darken all the strands of the story will come together on the night of a terrible blizzard, and when tradition claims the dead gather to celebrate Christmas.

This brilliant novel is part ghost story, part detective story, and a really gripping thriller. The book reads as if written in English so translator Marlaine Delargy has done a very good job. The human characters are all well drawn but the island of Oland and its folklore are the dominating characters.

Tilda knew how quickly it could happen. The blizzard transformed the alvar into a white, ice-cold desert and made it impossible to travel by car anywhere on the island. Even the snow scooters would sink and get stuck in the snow.

This is a beautifully constructed story with all the various threads and layers interwoven so cleverly, but as with most good crime fiction nothing is quite as it seems and there are some unseen and unexpected twists at the end. This is without doubt one of the best crime fiction books I have read in 2009.

“Oh, that’s an old story,” said Gerlof. “It’s told in many places, not just here at Eel Point. The Christmas vigil of the dead, that’s when those who have passed away during the year return for their own Christmas service. Anyone who disturbed them at that time had to run for their life.”

The Darkest Room was voted Best Crime Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime and also won the Glass Key for Best Nordic Crime Novel.


Posted: August 20, 2009 in Uncategorized


Seamus Scanlon’s original post at Crime Always Pays was followed by Barbara Fister’s post with her own accurate assessment of the Martin Beck books.

“-they’re shot through with humour and irony”.

Seamus has replied in the comments that “I agree that the Beck books are full of black humour and irony which I neglected to highlight.”

Here is another example of the Sjowall and Wahloo circa 1965 humour that perhaps in these more sensitive times would not get past the editor.

“Yes, of course your colleague showed me her portrait, but you understand, it wasn’t her face that I recognize. It’s the dress, or more correctly, not exactly the dress, either.”
He turned to the left and placed his powerful index finger on Martin beck’s chest.
“It was the decollete,” he said in a thundering whisper.
Roseanna: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

It has become almost a Scandinavian tradition to break up the tension of even the bleakest stories with a little humour. I recall Harry Hole having problems with the ‘e’ on his computer while trying to write a report on neo-Nazis, and Van Veeteren’s colleague Rheinhart brilliant ironical reply to the inquiry whether a headless corpse was really a case of murder that no, it might be someone who could not afford a proper funeral and had donated his head to medical science.

When it comes to dark, scary and sombre Johan Theorin’s latest number one best seller The Darkest Room takes some beating, but even among that bleakness he creates a little humour.
Two elderly ladies at the residential home where the elderly sea captain Gerlof Davidsson lives provide the light relief as policewoman Tilda Davidsson waits to take out her grandfather’s brother and over hears their conversations.

“Talk things, through, yes,” said the first lady. “Once and for all. She says I never supported her. You only thought about yourself and Daddy, she said. All the time. And us kids have always been in second place.”
That’s what my son says as well, said the other lady. “Although with him it’s the exact opposite. He rings before Christmas every year and complains and says I gave him too much love.”