Archive for May, 2010

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Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children Belle and Warren move into a villa at Cholong-sur-Avre, Normandy in the middle of the night.


Fred claims to the locals that he is a writer, but his real name is Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-Mafia boss who is the diamond in the FBI witness-protection program. Fred’s evidence had sent down Don Mimino, the capo di tutti i capi, for a mere 351 years, and he has a twenty million dollar bounty on his head.
As the American family try to settle into life in a small provincial French town they begin to give themselves away with some eccentric behaviour that is normal in New Jersey, and cause serious problems for their FBI protection team of Tom Quintiliani, Di Cicco and Caputo. All seven frequently show their Italian American origins.

“Butter impregnates the tissues, it blocks everything, it hockey sticks. Olive oil only touches on your insides and slides through, just leaving its scent.”
“Olive oil is in the Bible.”

It won’t be long before their cover is blown.

This book is blurbed as “imagine moving the Soprano family to Normandy” and despite only having watched one episode of The Sopranos I do get the idea.

Tonino Benacquista, born in France of Italian immigrant parents is a highly acclaimed author of crime fiction novels and film scripts in France. I have read his first novel to be translated into English, Holy Smoke, which was great fun.
Badfellas was translated from the French by Emily Read, and luckily none of the black comedy and sharp witty satire seem to have been lost.
The scenes where Fred and Tom Quintiliani go to the local cinema club to see Some Came Running with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, and unfortunately the wrong film has been sent are hilarious.

The wrong film, is Goodfellas! And a question from the audience give Fred an opportunity to tell a story, that has villagers phoning friends to come and listen and Quintiliani wondering if he has gone mad.

“When you’re living in New York, are you aware of the presence of the Mafia , as shown in films?”

I am one of those old fashioned people who like my crime fiction not to glorify violence, or violent gangs, and for “good” to triumph in the end. That is why I love The Godfather Trilogy because the films have the message of retribution for evil acts, and of course Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part Two produces one of the greatest acting performances in film history.

So I have this little niggle in the back of my mind about Badfellas, and the author choosing a Mafia snitch as the novel’s hero?

It is only a little niggle because Badfellas is such an amusing book that keeps the reader’s interest with some clever storytelling involving the teenage children’s adventures at school, Maggie’s [real name Livia] motherly relationship with the FBI minders, unlucky Italian-Americans far from home, and a school magazine’s long journey round the world to Ryker’s Island.

In New Jersey, the man with the stupid hat would not have survived more than two weeks, he would have been taught to hold his tongue from earliest childhood,or he would have had it cut off with a razor-sharp switchblade-the operation wouldn’t have taken a minute.


This was the fifth book I read from the six book CWA International Dagger shortlist.

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When Maria is found hanging from a beam in her holiday cottage at Lake Thingvallavatn is seems like a straightforward suicide. But when Karen, the friend who found her body, gives Erlendur a tape of a seance Maria had attended he becomes intrigued by the case.

Why did this woman end her life? Was she still grieving at the loss of her mother Leonora to cancer two years earlier, and was her history of depression perhaps caused by a long ago tragic boating accident that killed her father.
Erlendur preoccupied by her story starts an unofficial investigation, and at the same time looks into two separate thirty year old unsolved cases involving the disappearance of two young people.
Erlendur hopes at least to solve the mystery of the missing young man before his ailing father dies.
But Erlendur’s search to find some answers to her suicide in Maria’s tragic past uncovers some harsh realities, and make him think back once again to his own childhood trauma at the loss of his young brother in a storm on Mount Hardskafi.

“…was said to be left gloomy and withdrawn by his ordeal.”

This is the sixth book in Arnaldur Indridason’s award winning Erlendur series to be translated into English, this one by Victoria Cribb, who took over from the sadly deceased Bernard Scudder during the translation of the previous book Artic Chill.

Gripping and haunting are probably much overused terms when it comes to reviewing books, but each applies to this absolutely brilliant book. Not surprisingly it has been shortlisted for the 2010 CWA International Dagger, and was named as one of the Best Crime Books of the Decade by The Times.

Detective stories sometimes seem like you are peeling away the layers of an onion to get at the truth. In Hypothermia it is almost like you are watching a methodical detective doing a jigsaw puzzle putting together the pieces to solve a mystery, while at the same time as the author is constructing a superb crime fiction book by placing those jigsaw pieces perfectly on the page.
This is a melancholic story full of regret and sadness with Erlendur’s own failings as a father and husband being reflected in the characters around him. His strained relationship with his daughter Eva Lind always plays a major part in the stories.

‘Do you think you can ever forgive me?’ Erlendur asked, looking at his daughter.
She didn’t answer him but stared up at the sky with her arms behind her head and her legs crossed.
‘I know people are responsible for their own fates,’ she said at last.

I am not going to comment on which book should win the 2010 International Dagger until I have read all six shortlisted novels, but if delicious food is taken into consideration the Sicilian Andrea Camilleri may have the edge.

On the same shopping trip Erlendur had also bought some sour-lamb rolls, fatty breast meat on the bone and a portion of sheep’s head in jelly that he kept in a tub of pickling whey out on his balcony.

Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia is a brilliant crime fiction novel that starts slowly and then draws the reader in to a beautifully constructed story. I can’t recommend it highly enough as it is a wonderful addition to a superb series.

It was also the fourth book I read of the six books shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger.

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The Observer reports that Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hoffman which I reviewed on Euro Crime last year has become a “surprise hit’ with over 100,000 sales in three months.
I am not surprised by Alone In Berlin’s success, because it tells the story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

What do you do when your entire country is stolen by a gang of criminals?

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The shortlist for the CWA International Dagger was announced at Crime Fest 2010 tonight.

Badfellas by Tonino Benacquista, translated by Emily Read (Bitter Lemon Press)
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Picador)
Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Press)
Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer,, translated by K.L. Seegers (Hodder and Stoughton)
The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)


The winner will be announced on 23 July so I do have time to read the two remaining books that I have not started [Thirteen Hours and Badfellas] and finish Hypothermia, which I have just begun.

My first reaction is that I would not like to have to choose between such a formidable lineup of books, as from my reading experience, all these authors are superb writers. But I will give my opinion for what it is worth, and pick my winner before the judges give their verdict.

Secondly I am surprised that The Snowman by Jo Nesbo translated by Don Bartlett, and The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell translated by Laurie Thompson have not made the list.
But with books from France, Italy, Iceland, Sweden, South Africa and Sweden we have a nice range of countries.

The past winners of the International Dagger since its inception in 2006 have been all French, and Fred Vargas has won three times:

2006-The Three Evangelists: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds
2007-Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds
2008-Lorraine Connection: Dominique Manotti translated by Roz Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson
2009-The Chalk Circle Man: Fred Vargas translated by Sian Reynolds

My posts relating to last year’s International Dagger Award:


Back to reading for now, but I will be most interested to see if the French monopoly will be broken this year. [Sorry this is a bit difficult to read but I am blaming blogger]

>MISSING CRIME FEST 2010

Posted: May 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Unfortunately I won’t be at Crime Fest 2010 in Bristol this year, but hopefully we will be able to get early news of the International Dagger shortlist either from live blogging by Karen Meek [founder of the Euro Crime website and a judge this year] or from the CWA International Daggers website here shortly after 7.00 pm on Friday 21 May.


Photographs taken at Crime Fest 2009.

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The coastal resort town of Fjallbacka is again the location of Camilla Lackberg’s third novel to be translated into English by Steven Murray [aka Reg Keeland] perhaps now more famous as Stieg Larsson’s translator.


Erica Falck, and local detective Patrik Hedstrom, are now the proud parents of a baby girl Maja. Unfortunately Erica is suffering from a severe case of post natal depression that has left her listless and exhausted, and Patrik is not as sympathetic to her problems as he should be. Erica meanwhile has become close friends with Charlotte, another young mother, who along with her husband Niclas has relocated back to Fjallbacka, where they grew up. They have moved in with her mother, Lilian and her ailing stepfather Stig, while they look for a house of their own.
Charlotte has her own marital problems with husband, Niclas, a tall, blond attractive doctor, who is estranged from his religious fanatic father. Her mother Lilian is involved in a long running acrimonious dispute with the neighbour Kaj, whose son Morgan, a computer expert, has Asperger’s syndrome.
Charlotte’s life is then torn apart when a lobster fisherman finds her daughter Sara drowned. When the medical examiner finds bath water in Sara’s lungs Fjallbacka’s police department realises it has a child murder case on their hands.

Interwoven with this main story are brief passages of a prolonged back story involving Agnes, an attractive and spoilt young woman, and Anders, the eponymous Stone-Cutter.

Men were like apples on a tree, and she only needed to reach out her hand to pick them,….

As the investigation proceeds we realise that almost everyone involved has secrets to hide, and that the detectives are being hampered by incompetent members of their team.

I approach my assessment of this novel with some trepidation because Camilla Lackberg sells huge numbers of books in Sweden, and she does write with great understanding and skill about domestic issues. Post natal depression, spousal abuse, child abuse and public attitudes to conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome are such serious issues that it is no surprise that she has a dedicated readership. These are just as valid subjects for crime fiction as the mid life crisis male alcoholism, that plays such a big part in other novels.
But I was a little disappointed with the detection part of the story, and in crime fiction the investigation should be carried out in at least a reasonably efficient manner.
I can’t see any of Patrik’s colleagues being rushed in to head an important investigation in Goteborg or Malmo, without considerable retraining.

The residents of Fjallbacka have such a plethora of problems, that at times it seemed as if Ms Lackberg is trying to cover too much ground, and provide too much material for one old reader to digest. While having so many suspects can be very entertaining, it was sometimes difficult to follow all the numerous sub-plots with their cast of eccentric characters.

I did however enjoy solving the not too difficult murder puzzle, and perhaps my disappointment was caused by raised expectations of a more clever plot twist at the end.

This was the fourth book I read for the six book Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010 at The Black Sheep Dances.

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I do read a lot of books that are not historical crime fiction, but sometimes that does not appear to be the case. I certainly do enjoy historical crime fiction especially when the writer has taken care to do careful research, and create a believable atmosphere.


In The Informer by Craig Nova “you can smell the cigars, sausages and perfumes of Weimar Berlin.”

>HISTORICAL FICTION

Posted: May 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

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If you read this post at Bernadette’s blog Reactions to Reading you will find out why I am having trouble balancing my big head on my weakened knee.


“This excellent review at Crime Scraps [the blog which has single -handedly rekindled my interest in historical fiction over the past year or so…..”

Thanks Bernadette for those kind comments which made my day.

>SOFT MEN AND NAPPIES*

Posted: May 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

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When Dorte of DJS Krimiblog reviewed The German Brat by Camilla Lackberg [not yet translated into English] she warned:


“If you are allergic to soft men, nappies, and parental leave, stay clear of this novel!”

At present I am reading an earlier Camilla Lackberg, The Stone Cutter, translated by Steven Murray [and very kindly sent to me by Maxine of Petrona Towers] and am finding it slightly heavy going. As I am only about a third of the way through I am going to reserve my judgement until I have finished, but after reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, and The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell in quick succession the readjustment to more mundane domestic issues is proving difficult.
Perhaps my problem is that all the female characters have been given very good reasons for being utterly miserable, and with most of the male characters being “soft”, the book wallows in depression and melancholia.

I am sure that as soon as I become used to the massive style differential between Henning Mankell’s global economic strategic studies, and Camilla Lackberg’s breast feeding schedules I will begin to enjoy The Stone Cutter much more.

Does Camilla Lackberg deliberately try to increase her female readership by giving so many varied domestic problems to her female characters?

Do her books appear at times to be more soap operas than crime fiction?

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Thanks to Shots magazine where I picked up the news that Philippe Claudel’s superb novel Brodeck’s Report has won this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.


You can read my February 2009 review of Brodeck’s Report at Euro Crime.
One of the perks of blogging is getting to read, courtesy of Karen of Euro Crime in this case, some superb books before they become prize winners.