Archive for October, 2009


Posted: October 31, 2009 in Uncategorized


I am about to finish reading Michael Genelin’s Siren of The Waters and in due course my review will appear on Euro Crime.

Next up I will be reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson translated by Reg Keeland. I feel obliged to read and post about that as soon as possible because I nagged those very nice people at Quercus for a free review copy.

This week amid a lot of important “events” I watched two of the best “crime” films I have ever seen. Both movies Gran Torino and The Constant Gardener were brilliantly acted and this made up for their slightly predictable plots.
Predictability is not a quality associated with the superb French crime series Spiral 2. The final episode is due up next and I confidently expect to left totally confused by some twist or turn of events. This series has seen some fine acting and considerable drooling by me over the Machiavellian and very evil lawyer Josephine Karlsson, played by Audrey Fleurot.

I particularly liked the line spoken by the even more corrupt Szabo:

“Miss Karlsson if you work for me you must love money and only money.”

Blogger was unobtainable for most of today and it is late so I will leave my comments on a review I read today in the Daily Telegraph till another day.

I have just received the news from blogger crimeficreader, straight from the award ceremony, that Philip Kerr’s If The Dead Rise Not has won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical crime fiction award.

I have read all six of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlisted books.

My reviews:

With the huge range of historical crime fiction produced from such a wide chronological range it does seem to be rather strange that four out of the six shortlisted books cover the period 194o-1944, and another [If The Dead Rise Not] straddles the Second World War being set in 1934 and 1954.
In fact two books An Empty Death and The Dead of Winter feature the summer of 1944 when London was under attack from the V1 flying bombs, and I was regularly thrown under the kitchen table.
At the risk of being thrown under a table again I would respectfully suggest it would have been more sensible to have a shortlist exhibiting a wider range of historical periods.

Writing successful historical crime fiction is difficult because not only do you have to produce a plot with believable characters, but also to use your research to create the right ambience and historical atmosphere as well as getting the historical facts correct. Unless you are writing alternative history you cannot alter the stance of any real historical characters you use for your novel, but equally pages and pages of dialogue to establish the social conventions of the time can become boring.

The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth, was in my opinion the weakest of the six because of the ponderous pace, and the preponderance of stereotypes among the characters. Also why give away the motive in a prologue?

I was not sure about The Information Officer, by Mark Mills, was it a wartime thriller or a serial killer crime fiction novel, and by trying to be both it just missed the mark for me.

An Empty Death, by last year’s winner Laura Wilson, was a very good read with an interesting villain, someone who we really got to know, unlike the almost anonymous killer in The Dead of Winter. But one had to ‘suspend one’s disbelief’ over two key points in the plot, and this eventually spoilt the book.

The Interrogator by Andrew Williams was a great book to read with four interesting main characters and a plot that included a murder as well as the tension of solving a wartime conundrum. The book was also nominated for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, which it failed to win, and because the story was more about anti-submarine warfare and British naval codes than the murder I don’t think it will win the Ellis Peters.

We are now left with two very good contrasting books by Shona MacLean and Philip Kerr. I have discussed the Bernie Gunther books at great length and if you click and scroll down you can read all the posts here.

Shona MacLean has written a wonderful novel that brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of Scotland in 1626. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton has been meticulously researched and the reader is drawn back in time so successfully that you constantly expect the baillie and his men to batter down your door and drag you off to appear in front of the kirk session.

Shona MacLean’s book is a slower read that requires more concentration and because I like Bernie Gunther and the technique of the split story [Germany 1934, Cuba 1954] I would just pick Philip Kerr’s If The Dead Rise Not by a smidgen.
I have a suspicion though that the judges will pick The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean.

D is for Dashiell Hammett, a mini biography.

Here in his own words is a biographical statement which appeared in the Black Mask magazine in November 1924 before Hammett became well known.

‘I was born in Maryland, between the Potomac and Paxtuxent rivers, on May 27, 1894, and was raised in Baltimore.
After a fraction of a year in high school-Baltimore Polytechnic Institute-I became an unsatisfactory and unsatisfied employee of various railroads, stock brokers, machine manufacturers, canners and the like.
Usually I was fired.

An enigmatic want -ad took me into the employ of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, and I stuck at that until early 1922, when I chucked it to see what I could do with fiction writing.’

When in 1927 Joseph Shaw became the new editor of Black Mask magazine he boasted that Herbert Hoover and J.P.Morgan read the magazine. Hammett was one of Black Mask’s most celebrated writers with reviewers comparing him with Ernest Hemingway.

His reputation is based on the five novels and his short stories:

The Maltese Falcon [1930] in which he introduced his famous private detective, Sam Spade.
The Thin Man [1932] which introduced detectives Nick and Nora Charles.

Hammett had a very eventful life with service in both World Wars, periods of ill health, alcoholism, a volatile relationship with author and lover Lillian Hellman, time as a movie scriptwriter, and a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership of the Communist Party.

In 1941 the movie The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy was released. It had probably the greatest supporting cast ever with the superb Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman and the villainous Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. It is not surprising that author James Agee called this third cinematic adaptation of the novel “the best private eye melodrama ever made.”

On the 10 February 2005 the United States Senate approved a resolution introduced by Senator Dianne Fienstien commemorating the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon and recognizing it as a “great American crime novel.”

I think Dashiell Hammett could be said to have done pretty well with fiction writing.

[Information gleaned from Wikpedia, Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade edited by Richard Layman, preface to The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, Hammett’s Moral Vision by George Thompson]

You can read my review of The Interrogator by Andrew Williams at Euro Crime.

The Interrogator was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller [winner The Last Child by John Hart] and the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.
I have read and reviewed all six of the Ellis Peters Shortlist and will select which book I think should win in the next few days before the award ceremony on Thursday 29 October.


Leighton Gage’s webcast with Cara Black, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Stanley and Stuart Neville is now available for download here:

The operative word is “download”. The first three minutes and fifteen seconds are rife with feedback and technical glitches.
So the advice is click on download, bring it to your computer and start listening to it with ITunes or any other program that plays MP3s. You can then move ahead 3:15 and skip the rubbish. I managed it so it must be easy.


Posted: October 24, 2009 in Uncategorized


Tonight the clocks go back in the UK and the long winter nights will really begin.

In the Second World War we had double summer time, presumably to help the farmers, and it was light until almost 11.00 p.m but with GMT [Greenwich Mean Time] it will be dark at 3.30 p.m. in December and the number of road accidents will rapidly increase as tired workers and school children make their various ways home.
But at least it is not as dark as in Scandinavia because when visiting Stockholm, Upsaala and Helsinki in winter I recall it was dark at about 2.00 p.m or even earlier.
It is obvious that these dark winters have something to do with the high suicide rate in Northern Europe, and Martin Beck informs us in Cop Killer, ” Sweden led the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next”.
Roll on the spring.

I have started reading Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin featuring Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovak Police; Slovakia will be an interesting new location, although the blurb shows she will be traveling a lot. My review will appear on Euro Crime.

The CWA Ellis Peters Awards are on Thursday 29 October and before that I will make my own selection of the winner. After my debacle with the International Dagger [I picked Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin, and rated the eventual winner last among the shortlist] I don’t want to put a damper on any book but having gone to the trouble of reading all six shortlisted books I will select what I think is the best historical crime fiction novel.

In May 1940 Jewish furrier Maurice Sobel is preparing to leave Paris before the advancing German Army reaches the city. He has converted his money into diamonds, and agreed to take two young refugees with him on the long journey to Spain, but when he answers the door expecting his traveling companions he is attacked and murdered.

Four years later during the blackout in London a young Polish girl, Rosa Nowak, is killed. The police with their resources stretched due to wartime conditions can find no reason for the killing of an innocent refugee. But when Florrie Desmoulin’s, a French prostitute who saw the killer, is garroted the police realise they are dealing with an expert assassin.
Rosa Nowak was working on the farm of retired former police inspector John Madden and because he feels personally responsible he is drawn into the investigation to work with his old colleagues Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles.
They begin to collect clues from London and war-torn Europe in a battle to catch a killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them.

The author Rennie Airth was born in South Africa and has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. The first novel in his John Madden trilogy, River of Darkness won the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in France and was shortlisted for four crime fiction awards.
The Dead of Winter is the final novel in the John Madden trilogy, and the final novel of the Ellis Peters shortlist that I have read.

This novel was very hard going and frankly it was very disappointing. Perhaps it was my fault because I had read these historical crime fiction novels one after the other. The Dead of Winter was probably one too many books about the same period of history although this was not the only reason.

The CWA Ellis Peters shortlist consisted of four Second World War books, three of which were set mostly in London during the years 1940-1944. I cannot believe that there were not some other worthy books set in different historical periods that could have been nominated, Mrs D’Silva’s Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta for example.

But even making allowances for this I still did not enjoy the book because firstly The Dead of Winter starts with a prologue that virtually explained the plot.
The reader was then left wondering why the police were so slow on the uptake for about another 400 pages.

The narrative and plot development was frequently slowed by the history of minor characters, and I note that because of these distractions Sunnie at Sunnie’s Book Blog give up at page 197.

The lengthy dialogue featuring some twee cockneys also frequently brought the narrative to a shuddering halt, and this coupled with a plethora of character stereotypes left me unsettled and bored.
Was around page 197 a vital fact hidden from the reader ? I suspect it was, or had all the characters called Alfie, Benny, Betty, Billy, Lily, Molly, Nelly, Solly and Sally confused this old man?

Nick Hay at Reviewing the Evidence states that “the pace, for the most part, is a little ponderous” and the book is “seems as much stolid as solid”.

I am still puzzling why it was shortlisted.


Stieg Larsson’s first book The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won four prizes at Boucheron including Best British novel. This apparently was because it was published here in the UK by Quercus during the required time frame.

But it gives me a chance to post again a photo of Stieg’s English translator American Steven Murray and his charming wife Tiina Nunnally in a very British setting.

I don’t think it requires much expertise to predict more prizes for these two authors with the sequels.

I received this message from Leighton Gage, who as well as writing exciting thrillers set in Brazil was called a ‘prince among moderators’ by Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders.

Hi Norman

This Saturday [the 24th] at 12:30 PM United States Eastern time, I’ll be hosting a program live on Listeners can use Skype [or any normal telephone] to call in with questions to a New York area code.
If they can’t catch it live, the program will be remain archived for a month.

The guests are Yrsa Sigurdardottir [Iceland] , Michael Stanley [South Africa], Stuart Neville [Ireland] and Cara Black [France]. For more details, just go to and type my name into the site’s search function. If you “join’ the site , it will convert the air time to your own time zone and you won’t have to figure it out. Kindly talk this one up, because it is right up the street of most of your readers. Thanks.

I am certain this will be of great interest to readers but I am not sure he has the time correct [I think it is 12.30 AM British Summer Time], but then I have been converting Phnom Penh time this week. In England we go back to Greenwich Mean Time GMT on Sunday morning and the dark evenings really begin.

[Photograph of participants Leighton Gage and Cara Black with Hakan Nesser at Crime Fest 2009 in Bristol]