Archive for August, 2010


Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized


Since I noticed the gender inequality in my reading I have read five books in a row by female crime writers. In fact of the last twenty two books I have read eleven have been written by women, and the balance for the year is now 14 female writers to 28 male.


Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

When does a review step over the line between constructive criticism, and become a vitriolic attack?

A condensed version of this review was published in the Saturday edition of the Telegraph.

Friday’s version had the simple headline announcing a review, and a sub title ‘The Swedish TV adaptation botches the job of compressing the Stieg Larsson book’.

By the Saturday edition the headline had metamorphosed into:
‘Larsson sequel that’s pure tat’.
For those not familiar with informal English language, ‘tat’ is defined as tasteless and shoddy usually referring to clothes and jewelry.
The criticisms made of the film were that the book’s Caribbean prologue had been omitted, ‘Noomi Rapace’s bisexual avenging hacker’ has less to do than in the first film, and ‘the film flunks on all levels of sustained tension, plausible back story or moral depth, but it’s luridly violent denouement with shades of bad Thomas Harris leaves the grimmest taste in the mouth’.

Firstly this was a long book, something had to go, and most people who read the book wondered where that prologue fitted in to the whole saga.
The book had two separate plot lines one with Blomqvist’s investigations, and the other with Lisbeth Salander on the run from a triple murder charge. Obviously Noomi Rapace could not be in every scene, although her performance warranted that.

In 2001 I watched the film Hannibal [based on the Thomas Harris novel] on cable television, because of the beautiful locations at Asheville, North Carolina and Florence, Italy, both of which we had visited earlier in the year.
In that film there is one character who had been deliberately disfigured and left paralysed by Hanibal Lecter , and who was eaten alive by wild boars. Later in the film Hannibal [Anthony Hopkins] eats brain from a still living Ray Liotta’s head after cutting off the top of his skull.

The violence in The Girl Who Played with Fire is certainly nowhere near at that level.
The bad guys in the Larsson trilogy, and this film, are neo-Nazi biker gangs, Eastern European people traffickers, serial abusers of women and rogue Swedish intelligence agents.
Fifty hours community service, six months probation, a discussion of women’s rights, or a good telling off, is just not going to work with these people.
Lisbeth Salander’s violence towards the bad guys is almost certainly justified in her circumstances, and provides a strong moral depth to this movie.
Are some people evil? Do they need to be stopped?
Or do we go on proclaiming abuse of women, and people trafficking is terrible but………

The feedback I have had from as far afield as the English Midlands, Denmark and New Mexico is that this was an enthralling film, and an extremely good effort at adapting a complex story for the screen.
I can’t wait for The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest.


A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush, is a biting social commentary on Catalan society, which won the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize.

In Barcelona non-identical twin brothers Borja, and the narrator Eduard work as confidential investigators for the very wealthy on matters that require the utmost discretion, and definitely no paperwork and invoices.
Pep, who disappeared for years and returned as Borja, is posing as an aristocrat with the manners that enable him to charm his way around those upper class circles, that Eduard finds very intimidating. No one knows that the twins are brothers, not even Eduard’s wife Montse.
The brothers lives are a clever charade to maintain that professional image. Their office waiting room has false doors to non-existent private offices [always being painted by decorators], and their secretary is always out of the office to ensure complete discretion, and because she only exists as a perfume spray and a woman’s magazine.
The twins private lives are very different; Borja, has a rich mistress Merche, who helps keep him in the style to which he aspires; Eduard, has twin daughters and a young son, and is married to Montse, who now runs an Alternative Centre for Natural Wellbeing after fifteen miserable years as a school psychologist.

……she couldn’t face any more juvenile delinquents, mafiosi fathers, sadistic adolescents, racist mothers, pregnant teenagers and skinheads, not to mention an acquiescent Authority too politically correct to even hear mention of such things.

Smooth politician Lluis Font consults Borja, and Eduard, about a painting by Pau Ferrer of his beautiful wife Lidia. Font believes the painting, which he has bought when he spotted it in a catalogue, may signify that Lidia and Ferrer were having an affair that will be bound to cause a scandal, and affect his political future.

The twins begin to follow the politician’s glamourous wife around Barcelona’s cafes and tapas bars, and then Lidia Font is found poisoned by a marron glace, a confection that all her friends and enemies know she adores.
The twins have to deal with forged paintings, a trip to Paris, Montse’s exotic sister Lola, and a society that makes clear demarcations between the classes, before solving the mystery.

“Stuff and nonsense! Good taste depends on your pocket. It’s a business like any other. When they say someone has good taste, it’s either because he’s rich or because he’s trying to ape the rich.”

A Not So Perfect Crime is a charming amusing book, written with a sense of sharp humour, full of clever dialogue and social commentary.
Obviously the non-Catalan will probably miss a lot of the cleverness, but I enjoyed this lighter read and look forward to reading more about these intriguing characters, and the city of Barcelona, in the future.


Last night I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, on DVD, and this afternoon I went to our local Picture House Cinema to watch The Girl who Played with Fire.

I missed seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when it was at the cinema, because of my broken leg [patella] and subsequent immobility.
It will take something similar to stop me going to the The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest when that is released in cinemas early next year.

TGWTDT was the first movie I had watched on my 21 inch I-Mac, and it was like having my own private cinema. Very pleasant.
This was superb film, with beautiful cinematography and performance from Noomi Rapace that swept away any doubts I might of had that she would not match the Lisbeth of my imagination. Michael Nyqvist still does not seem to have the personality to be the “Kalle” Blomqvist of the books.
But the TGWTDT is all about Lisbeth Salander, and the story of the sick men of Vanger family, whose abuse of women goes back decades.

The Girl who Played with Fire was even better, and the 129 minutes flew by in a very quiet, but fairly well attended cinema.
Noomi Rapace’s performance was gripping, and she is so good in the part I cannot imagine why Hollywood wants to remake the film with another actress in her part. Once again it was scenically beautiful, and the violent action scenes were brilliantly directed with the result that this is a very tense and exciting movie.
Some judicious editing of the book, including those first irrelevant one hundred pages for instance, created a much tauter screenplay, which made a remarkable good effort at dealing with a complex story.
I can see in the future cinemas showing all three movies over the course of a marathon “Lisbeth Salander” day, because if you haven’t read the books you are left in a state of limbo at the dramatic finale of the The Girl who Played with Fire.

The recent article proclaiming that Stieg Larsson was a bad bad writer, raises the question what do you want in crime fiction books?
If it is clever elitist but ultimately bland wordsmithery, and characters who you ultimately don’t care about, there are other authors for you.
If you want good storytelling, despite much superfluous material, and a very relevant message then it is worth putting up with the odd IKEA shopping list, and the “flat cliche ridden” prose.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code a better book than Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I think not. Irrespective of whether the plot of The Da Vinci Code has a modicum of truth, or whether there were Nazis in Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s.

When you see her on the screen, acted so brilliantly by Noomi Rapace, it comes across what a vulnerable and damaged character Stieg Larsson created in Lisbeth Salander.

Some weeks ago I ceased to be an audio book virgin, thanks to Donna Moore.

This audio version of The Looking Glass War was read by the author John le Carre, and this added enormously to the enjoyment of the experience as his characters came over as he intended, and not interpreted by a third party.
This was particularly noticeable when he gave Johnson, the radio operator a more working class accent, compared with the upper class tones of administrators Haldane and Leclerc. George Smiley, who plays a minor role in this book, is portrayed as similar to the quiet inoffensive classless civil servant made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in his TV recreation of Smiley in the novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Smiley’s People.

This brilliantly downbeat novel involves the rivalry between the Department, effectively mothballed since the war without agents or resources, and the Circus. When the Department has a chance to mount an operation the chance of reclaiming former glory cannot be missed…….
I bought a paperback copy of The Looking Glass War as I enjoyed the audio book so much, and noted the former glory theme in the quotations chosen to start each of the three parts, the “runs” , by Taylor, and then by Avery to Finland, and finally by Leiser into East Germany.

The three quotations are a strange choice for any book written in 1964, unless you are thinking about former and lost glories :

‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’ Rudyard Kipling

‘There are some things that no one has a right to ask of any white man.’
John Buchan, Mr Standfast

‘To turn as swimmers onto the cleanness leaping
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary’ Rupert Brooke, 1914

I will get round to reading the paperback of The Looking Glass War in the future.


Posted: August 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

On 10 July I noted the countries from which I had visitors over a thirty day period and was pleasantly surprised.

The list of countries has got longer since then with seventeen more countries, and therefore I have produced an updated map.

My review of the fourth book in the Adelia Aguilar [Mistress of the Art of Death] series by Ariana Franklin has been posted at Eurocrime.

This medieval historical crime fiction is at its best when Adelia is using her medical training on the dead and sometimes on the living.

Reviews of the three previous books in this excellent series Mistress of the Art of Death, The Death Maze, Relics of the Dead [Grave Goods in USA]


Posted: August 21, 2010 in Uncategorized


I am back on my meds, and not feeling quite so sensitive; time for some fun.

Last year I participated in a meme to describe my life in the form of the book titles I had read that year, see at My Life with Books of 2009.

The meme has revived this year with different questions, and I have noted the contributions by:

Here goes with mine, although I haven’t read as many books this year so this may be tricky.

In High School I was: The Informer [Craig Nova]
People might be surprised I’m: The Snowman [Jo Nesbo]
I will never be: The Monster in the Box [Ruth Rendell]
My fantasy job is: The Stone Cutter [Camilla Lackberg]
At the end of the day I need: Skinny Dip [Carl Hiassen]
I hate it when: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze [Leah Giarratano]
Wish I had: Thirty Three Teeth [Colin Cotterill]
My family reunions are: A Night of Long Knives [Rebecca Cantrell]
At the party you’d find me with: The Woman from Bratislava [Leif Davidsen]
I’ve never been to: Cemetery Lake [Paul Cleave]
A happy day includes: Midnight Fugue [Reginald Hill]
Motto I live by: Truth [Peter Temple]
On my bucket list: Blood Safari [Deon Meyer]
In my next life I want to be: Bad Boy [Peter Robinson]

Photos taken on Dartmoor, and at the Lambeth Country Show 2010.


Posted: August 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


I have been reading Sean McMeekin’s The Berlin-Baghdad Express, subtitled The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power 1898-1918.

Professor Norman Stone, author of The Eastern Front 1914-1917 and father of crime writer Nick Stone, is quoted on the front flap, ‘This superb and original book is the reality behind Greenmantle.’

Sen McMeekin teaches at Yale, and at Bilkent University in Ankara, where Norman Stone is a Professor in the International Relations Department.

Usually the current Middle East situation is blamed on the British for making promises they could not keep in order to disrupt the Ottoman war effort.
McMeekin puts a portion of the blame on Kaiser Wilhelm, and his advisers such as Baron Max Oppenheim for attempting to raise a jihad against the infidel, unless those infidels happened to be German or Austro-Hungarian.
It is clear from the many quotes from John Buchan’s Greenmantle [1916] that the author was far more knowledgeable about the politics of the region than many diplomats. Of course John Buchan became Director of Information in 1917, and later went on to be Governor General of Canada.
Would crime writers make a better job of governing us than the politicians?

I was inspired to read The Berlin-Baghdad Express when watching our current Prime Minister David Cameron on his recent visit to Turkey.
He was asked about Turkey’s entry to the European Union and the probable effect on immigration levels to the UK.
From his expression I am not sure he knew a lot about Turkey’s past relationship with the Russians, Persians, Arabs, Armenians, Circassians, Jews, Levantine Christians, Kurds, Cyprus or the Greeks.
He made a comment about income levels becoming equalized throughout the EU, and that population movements would therefore not be necessary. That certainly amused me because income levels between Cornwall, where his daughter was born yesterday [congratulations to him and his wife Samantha] and his own constituency, Henley, will take a lot of equalizing.
Equalization between London and Anatolia might take a fraction longer.

The Berlin-Bagdhad Express is introduced with a quote from John Buchan’s First World War spy story :

Some day, when the full history is written with ample documents-the poor romancer will give up the business and fall to reading Miss Austen in a hermitage.
John Buchan , Greenmantle [1916]

There are more references to Greenmantle in the book which tells a sad story of incompetence, brutality, arrogance mixed with a total lack of understanding of the aspirations, and inclinations of the various peoples in the region. Buchan seems to have understood this better than most.

Colonel Stumm warns the neutral American Blenkiron in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, one needed to be extra careful when speaking English while the world war was on, because the locals ‘don’t distinguish between the different brands’.

The Berlin-Bagdhad Express is a sad book although occasionally the sheer lunacy of events can bring a smile to the reader’s face.

German propaganda had turned into a farce.
Oppenheim’s jihad bureau in the Pera Embassy was a laughing stock after the story broke that his lead holy war writer in the Turkish press, ‘Mehmed Zeki Bey’, was actually a Romanian Jewish conman, who had recently done a turn running a bordello in Buenos Aires.

But it also has some interesting comments to make about our present situation.

But there is a subtler version of the virus coursing through the veins of the West, such as the fashionable Third Worldist auto-critique which decries every sin of European imperialism while absolving the world’s most wicked post-colonial regimes of responsibility for their crimes.

The more I read crime and spy fiction novels the more it seems that the writers, whatever the agendas they favour, know a lot more about the problems of society, and their world, than the politicians.
I have digressed from my original intention, and perhaps it is a bit cruel to mention at this particularly happy time for him, David Cameron’s foreign policy and historical gaffes on his trip to Turkey and India, but politicians as well as:
‘Generals have over their troops a power of life and death that is terrifying’ [The Siege: Russell Braddon], therefore they have to be held to account.

I bought The Siege in 1971, having read Russell Braddon’s brilliant previous book The Naked Island about the fall of Singapore, and was shocked that so few people had even heard of this disastrous defeat on the banks of the Tigris.
The frightening thing is that the more one reads about history the more one realises that politicians and their generals repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again…..
The cause of these mistakes is a cocktail of arrogance, ignorance, and a lack of care for the men and women who serve, that sometimes defies belief.
The information is all out there for the politicians, but they just ignore it, and sail on regardless.

From the second paragraph from Chapter One of The Siege.

Because it was then, at Kut el Amarah, after a futile siege of 147 days, that thirteen thousand British and Indian troops surrendered to the Turks and began a horrifying march into captivity. Kut el Amarah was the most humiliating disaster to have befallen a British Expeditionary Force since 1842 when, in a lunatic retreat from Kabul, sixteen thousand men died because of the decision of one half -witted general. It was to remain the most humiliating disaster until Singapore fell in 1942, because of the decisions of a series of half -witted military planners. In 1916, however Kabul had been forgotten, Singapore was inconceivable, and Kut seemed an unprecedented defeat at the hands of the despised Oriental.

As part of my plan to devote more time to crime fiction by female crime writers I have read Ruth Rendell’s latest Wexford book, The Monster in the Box. This is the twenty second book in this series which began in 1964 with from Doon With Death.

It is possibly a bit cheeky to review this author, who was a major factor in starting my crime fiction addiction, but it is sometimes interesting to see if your old favourites still retain their magic.

The Monster in the Box is about obsessions.
The first obsession and the main plot concerns Eric Targo, a short muscular man with a noticeable naevus [birthmark] on his neck, which he constantly covers up in all weathers with a scarf. Wexford has glimpsed the naevus when as a young constable he was part of a murder enquiry. Targo, a man obsessed with animals was walking his dog, when he looked up defiantly at Wexford, who was in the victim’s house and the policeman became obsessed with the idea that Targo was the murderer, despite an absence of any evidence.
Targo moves on with his life, moving through several marriages, gradually becoming more wealthy, and at one point returning to Kingsmarkham, when Wexford is sure he committed another murder.
In the present day [sometime in the 1990s in the book] Wexford spots a much older Targo, who has now had the naevus removed, and he is certain that yet another murder will occur. The only person he can confide in is Mike Burden, who does not believe in Wexford’s obsession.

The second obsession is Reg Wexford’s desire for a certain type of woman. This is dealt with as Wexford reminisces about his past, and Rendell plays a little game with her readership. Luckily Wexford eventually finds his Dora and settles down to a happy married life.

The third strand of the plot becomes an obsession, when concerns felt by Jenny Burden, are subsequently passed on to Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith.
Jenny, Mike Burden’s second wife and a dedicated history teacher, is concerned that bright local teenager Tamima Khan is being prevented from attending a sixth form college.
When Hannah takes up this it becomes an obsession, a teenager possibly wanting to go out to work for a while, turns in her politically correct view into a possible arranged marriage, from there it develops into a forced marriage, and finally an honour killing instigated by Tamima’s family.
I must admit I was mildly irritated by a series of anomalies in the plot, which impair Rendell’s attempt to create the image of a Kingsmarkham in 1990s Britain unused to Asian immigrants.

In fact some of the dialogue just does not ring true, and Hannah’s statements with reference to the Rahman’s house are so patronising that they seem more appropriate to a colonial memsahib in Simla than a liberal anti-racist woman police officer in 1990s Britain.

Also some of the ideas expressed make it seem the book was set in the 1950s rather than the 1990s, or else that Reg Wexford, and his team, just don’t get out that much.

……to follow Wexford into the general store. Another surprise awaited him. Out here, in this rustic and intensely English spot, the proprietor and postmaster was Asian. And a particularly dark-skinned hook-nosed Asian at that. Wexford wondered if it was politically incorrect even to think these things.

In my experience by the 1980s a very large number of small shops in England were run by Asians. Surely by the 1990s even in a rural village it would not have been a surprise to come across an Asian shopkeeper.

I was enjoying The Monster in the Box till about two thirds through the book, and looking forward to Wexford finally chasing Targo down. But the ending unfortunately became rather obvious far too soon as both plot lines converged leaving Wexford, and this reader ultimately unsatisfied.
Ruth Rendell is a wonderful storyteller, but spoils this book with exaggerated attempts to get over her agenda unnecessarily putting ideas into the characters minds that might be considered even to denigrate the indigenous population.

‘There was a solidarity in this family he had seldom seen before the immigrants came.’