Archive for January, 2010

>SCANDINAVIAN MYSTERY

Posted: January 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

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It is nice to get back on line, nearly 24 hours without any electronic contact with friends and relatives is a harrowing experience.


There have been numerous articles about the appeal of Nordic crime fiction in the main stream media some of which have been quite funny.
Thanks to Barbara Fister and Maxine of Petrona [who both produce superb blogs that are required reading for anyone with the slightest interest in Scandinavian crime fiction] for pointing out an article where the writer’s examples of British crime fiction were ‘Conan Doyle and Christie and more recently P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’.
Ruth Rendell ‘more recently’ first brought us Reg Wexford in the days when I could walk up Bristol’s Park Street [Crime Fest visitors will know what I mean] without needing a team of paramedics.
Obviously some of these main stream media writers need to get out more.

So many articles ask the question: Why is Scandinavian Crime Fiction so popular?
This always reminds me of the history exam question set to students in a high school in Atlanta:
Why did the South lose the Civil War?
Most of the class wrote reams and reams on the military, economic, social, political and demographic reasons, apart from one student who answered with one sentence.
‘I think the Yankee Army had something to do with it’.

Scandinavian crime fiction is popular because it features good writing, usually excellent translation, well thought out plots and interesting characters.
The difference in location is merely an extra bonus to these basics in my opinion.
The main stream media seem to still regard Sweden as some sort of bizarre mixture of fictional Midsomer, and scenic Stow in the Wold, with snow, and absolutely no real life crime.
This despite the fact that in the real world Sweden has the distinction of having had two major politicians assassinated in fairly recent times; Olaf Palme in 1986 and Anna Lindh in 2003.

They also try and link all Scandinavian crime fiction under one ‘gloomy’ banner, when in reality Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Stieg Larsson, Leif Davidsen, Liza Marklund, Camilla Lackberg, Helene Tursten, Karin Alvtegen, Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl for instance are all very different writers, and write very different books.

Looking at The Local Sweden’s News in English just over the past week gave me an insight into modern Sweden as I discovered these headlines.

Married couple fund dead in cellar
Taxi driver charged with raping customer
Politician caught with chid pornography stash
Fatal shooting in central Malmo
Tourist wounded in Malmo shooting
Ex-Police Chief remanded in sex ring probe and Ex-Police Chief arrested for rape
Police shoot student at Swedish college

I am being little unfair quoting all these, but globalization increasingly means that all major cities have similar problems whether they are in the USA, Scandinavia, Australasia or Asia. Crime fiction writers will have to rely less on supposedly exotic location details and concentrate more on plot and characters.
The successful ones already do this, but add in the extra details of history and culture in an almost seamless fashion.

>NESBO NEWS

Posted: January 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

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The future looks bright for for fans of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books from the information in the first newsletter of 2010 sent out by the Salomonsson Agency.


Nemesis [Harry Hole no. 4] has been nominated for an Edgar award for Best Novel. The Edgar is arguably the most prestigious crime writing award in the world. It is presented by the Mystery Writers of America, which is “the premier organization for mystery and crime writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and folks who just love to read crime fiction.”

We are still waiting for The Snowman [Harry Hole no. 7] to be published in English, but the newsletter teases us by going on to say.

The Leopard [Harry Hole no.8] was published in Norway in 2009, outselling Dan Brown and Henning Mankell by far.
In the words of one Norwegian critic [ABC Nyheter]:

“This is not only Norway’s best crime novel. It may be the world’s best.”
The Leopard will be out in Germany next month.

Here is a taster of The Leopard:

Two women are found murdered in Oslo-both of them have drowned in their own blood. What mystifies the police, is that the puncture wounds in the victim’s faces have been caused from the the inside of their mouths. Kaja Solness from Oslo Homicide is sent to Hong Kong to track down a man that is the Oslo Police Department’s only specialist on serial killings. The severely addicted detective has tried to disappear in the vast, anonymous city. He is on the run and haunted by his last case, the woman he loves, and creditors alike. His name is Harry Hole.

>TO RECEIVE EDUCATION

Posted: January 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

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I was extremely honoured this week to receive a Kreativ Blogger award not once but twice; once from the charming Dorte of DJS Krimiblog in Denmark, and another from the equally charming Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.
Both these ladies have wonderful blogs; Margot has an encylopaedic knowledge of crime fiction, and Dorte incredibly blogs in two languages [English and Danish] at the same time, and has even translated from a third [Swedish] when requested.

Why do we read, and why do we blog?
Because it takes us away from the problems that life throws up, and into very different worlds. At the moment I am reading a book set in Communist Shanghai as part of my Global Challenge 2010, and I have learned that people there faced problems that were far greater than ever dreamed of by the Western liberals, who wore Mao T-shirts in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yu Guangming and Jing Peiqin, though too young to be Red Guards, found themselves labelled as educated youths, despite the fact they had received little education, with copies of the shining red Quotations of Chairman Mao as their textbook. As educated youths, they, too had to leave Shanghai to “receive education in the countryside.” They were to go to an army farm in Yunnan province, on the southern China/ Burma border.

…….because while their status was still recorded as single, for them to move back to Shanghai. According to government policy, the educated , once married , had to settle in the countryside.
They missed Shanghai.

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My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie’s Mysteries in Paradise is O is for Old Flames.


Old Flames is the fourth book chronologically in the Troy novels series by John Lawton.

In Old Flames Frederick Troy, now a Chief Inspector has moved on to 1956 where an impoverished Britain faces the problem of a state visit by Marshal Bulganin and First Secretary Nikita Khruschev. This is the height of the Cold War and Russian speaking Troy is co-opted to be part of the team providing security to the visitors.

‘I won’t spy on Marshal Bulganin.’
‘I told yer,’ muttered Cobb.
‘But I will spy on Khruschev.’

Troy travels to Portsmouth to meet up with the Russians, who are arriving by battleship, and over breakfast he meets Arnold Cockerell, a furniture salesman.

‘I’m in sales myself,’ Cockerell began. ‘Just another working day for me, another early start. Still, it’s the early bird catches the worm.’

There turns out to be more to Cockerell than selling sofas, and what starts out as a spy story involving a tour round East End pubs with Krushchev, and meeting up with an old flame, Larissa Tosca ex -US Army, and possibly ex-KGB, develops into a complex hunt for a ruthless killer.

I am a total fan of the Troy series and the only thing stopping me devouring the remaining two books in the series is I can’t bear the thought of not having a Troy on the TBR shelf.
With most of the characters from Blackout returning, including Kolankiewicz [the most foul-mouthed, bloody-minded, cantakerous creature to walk the earth], Larissa, Jack Wildeve, and Onions, this is another brilliant portrait of Britain at the height of its post war gloom. The 1950s were the era for many of paraffin stoves, outside toilets, fog, bomb sites and holidays hop picking in Kent, or on the beach at Margate.
John Lawton, who calls his books a ‘social history of my time’, brilliantly captures the essence of those bleak years with shortish but very evocative sentences.

‘The small dining room was full. Men with moustaches. Men in brown suits, who all seemed to know each other, and to be deeply submerged in greasy eggs, greasy bacon, greasy, milky tea and knowing shop talk. A smell of stale tobacco and hair oil glided across the worst that breakfast could exhale.’

The blending of real life characters and events within the fictional story is achieved smoothly and the whole book was just a pleasure to read.

I was on the lookout for the trademark Lawton deliberate mistake, and found it buried on page 324.

‘He bought me a martini and I was desperate for a ciggy by then, and he took out two from his cigarette case, put them in his mouth, just like Humphrey Bogart. Lit up both and passed one to me. I thought that was so good mannered. So romantic.’

>TEAMWORK IS IMPORTANT

Posted: January 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name mentioned recently that in the Swedish Wallander TV series Krister Henriksson was superb as Wallander, but it was the excellent supporting cast of Johanna Sallstrom as Linda, and Ola Rapace as Stefan that really made the series.

The theme of co-operative teamwork in a police procedural was also mentioned by Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders in relation to his first foray into the Martin Beck series, Roseanna.


The concept of having a team of characters allows the author much greater scope in delving into the personal lives of the protagonists and contrast their lives and investigative techniques.
All investigators have their strengths, for instance in the Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries, one of my favourite team police procedural series, Catarella is not the sharpest pencil in the box.

‘Hey, Cat, you still there?’
‘Yes, sir , Chief, I ain’t budged. I’m still here. I’s jes thinkin’.’
A good three minutes passed.
‘Try to think a little faster,Cat.’
[from Excursion to Tindari]

But when it comes to computers, and having friends who are useful, Catarella is an ace performer.

‘Cat, do you know you are brilliant?’
‘For as how the way I ‘splained what that Dr Latte wit’ an s at the end said?’
‘No, because you managed to open the second file.’
‘Ahhh, Chief! I straggled all night wit’ it! You got no idea what kinda trouble I had! ‘It was a past word that looked like one past word but rilly was –‘
‘Tell me about it later, Cat.’
[from The Paper Moon]

This is one of the outstanding teams in crime fiction with Catarella, Mimi Augello, Fazio, and Swedish blonde Ingrid, when Montalbano needs some fast driving, all featuring regularly in the books.

As a team they are possibly up there with Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck, Lennart Kollberg, Gunvar Larsson, Einar Ronn and Benny Skacke, or Ed McBain’s Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Cotton Hawes and Arthur Brown.

Which is your favourite team of more than three detectives in a crime fiction series? Do you like the same detective to feature as the lead in each book, or do you like a variation in who plays the major part in an investigation?

>HISTORY AWARD NOMINEE

Posted: January 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Information via the Rap Sheet that A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell has been nominated for the Bruce Alexander Historical Award [for an historical mystery set before 1950].

You can read all my posts about this book and my interview with Rebecca by clicking here and scrolling down.

>THE LONG BOOK

Posted: January 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Whenever I start a long book by an author I have never read before there is always that niggling worry that I will not enjoy it, but feel some obligation to struggle through to the end. I know many bloggers who say life is too short to waste on books you are not enjoying, but perhaps you have to experience the ‘downs’ in life, and reading, to fully appreciate the ‘ups’.

Yesterday I started reading a thick book and there are certain clues that I will enjoy it, for instance this passage:

‘For the main dishes, there were chunks of pork stomach on a bed of green napa, thin slices of smoked carp spread on fragile leaves of jicai, and steamed peeled shrimp with tomato sauce. There was also a platter of eels with scallions and ginger, which he had ordered from a restaurant. He had opened a can of Meiling steamed pork, and added some green vegetables to make it another dish. On the side, he placed a small dish of sliced tomatoes, and another of cucumbers.’

No prizes for guessing on which continent this book is set.

…..he saw a girl selling big bowls of tea on a wooden bench. No more than thirteen or fourteen, she sat quietly on a low stool wearing her pony tail tied with a girlish bow, reading a book…….
just a kid from the village, still small and innocent, reading against the idyllic background- perhaps a poetry collection in her hand, providing a convenience to thirsty travelers who might pass by.
…… He also asked for a big bowl of tea.
“Three cents,” the girl said, without looking up from her book.
“What are you reading?”
“Visual Basics.”

[Photographs taken in Cambodia by my son]

>INSIDER JOKES

Posted: January 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

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I am always on the lookout for amusing snippets in crime fiction books. Sometimes I am not sure whether the snippet was intended to be funny as in The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards, which I reviewed here.


‘The late Mr Blacon, who had lured her to the Lakes from her native Leyburn, had passed away thirty years ago, but he’d made a packet from a dental practice in Windermere and left her well provided for.’

OK, that might only seem funny to someone with 35 years experience of dental practices.

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My contribution this week to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie’s Mysteries in Paradise is N for Nemesis and Nesbo.


The Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo is one of Europe’s top crime writers and has an excellent website here.

The phenomenal success of Jo Nesbo’s books is based on stunning plot twists, and the fascinating lead protagonist and anti-hero Harry Hole; someone you can’t help liking even though he has more than his fair share of problems.
Four of the Harry Hole books have been brilliantly translated into English by Don Bartlett. Here I should issue a warning if you are ever getting Don to sign a book. Keep you wits about you, or you may be knocked off your feet by crowds of his female admirers.


The seventh Harry Hole, The Snowman is published this year in English.
Since that post the eighth Harry Hole, The Leopard was published in Norway and jumped straight to number one in the best sellers.
The first two books in the series have not been translated into English.

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Guy Koenig, a drifter, who lives on his wits and his ability to con money out of vulnerable women has returned to Coniston in the Lake District. He takes lodgings with Sarah, a sad middle aged woman with a run down guest house, and a secret of her own.

It is ten years since Emma Bestwick has walked out of her cottage and never been seen again, and local journalist Tony Di Venuto writes an article on the anniversary of her disappearance. Guy reads the article and for his own reasons decides to anonymously inform Di Venuto that firstly Emma will not return, and then later where her body can be found.

DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case Review Team, is instructed by her public relations conscious superior ACC Lauren Self to re-open the investigation.
While Hannah begins to question those connected with Emma’s past, her friend historian Daniel Kind, son of her old boss Ben, is researching details of John Ruskin’s time in the Lakes. Daniel’s relationship with his glamourous blonde partner Miranda has become strained, because she feels isolated in the Lake District which she now considers a backwater.

How did Emma come into money before she disappeared? Why did Guy meet Emma near the Arsenic Labyrinth, and is this old mine involved in an older mystery? Why is Emma estranged from her sister Karen Erskine?

This is the third book in the Lake District series by Martin Edwards, that features DCI Hannah Scarlett, and historian Daniel Kind.
It is a classic whodunit, within a modern rural setting, and is just the sort of book that first drew me into crime fiction
The plot is complex, and early on I drew a simple little diagram to show the relationships between the characters, some of which proved merely skillful red herrings. The excellent plot involves slowly uncovering the personal histories of numerous suspects, and their relevance to past and present crimes.
This is top quality crime writing which beautifully evokes the atmosphere of the Lakes, and importantly the sharply defined characters have the type of credible interrelationships that develop in small communities.
The chemistry between Hannah and Daniel adds yet another level of tension to the story, and hopefully this will be further explored in the next book in the series The Serpent Pool due out soon.
This was such a gripping and fascinating read that, until I reached the end, I did not realise it was over 400 pages in length.
I will definitely be on the look out for more books by Martin Edwards.


This was the second book I read for the European section of Dorte’s Global Challenge 2010.