Archive for December, 2010

>WINTER QUIZ REMINDER

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

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You have only a few days more to enter the 2010 Winter Quirky Quiz.


See the questions here and send your answers to thbear08@googlemail.com by midnight 4 January 2011 GMT.
Good Luck.

>THE POWER OF THE DOG: DON WINSLOW

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

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I read The Power of the Dog for three reasons:


1] It had been named as one of the ten best crime fiction books of the decade by The Times.
2] Don Winslow is a guest at Bristol’s Crime Fest in May 2011, and naturally I felt I should read at least one of his books.
3] I was snowed in, and I felt the tightly packed 500 plus pages would snugly fill up the rest of 2010.

The plot deals with an almost thirty battle between various Mexican drug gangs, and DEA agent Art Keller. The book could be considered faction as real life events [such as the assassination of Cardinal Posadas Ocampo at Guadaljara International Airport in 1993] are used as a basis for a complex story of extreme violence and constant betrayal.

The Independent on Sunday blurbled ‘This is Winslow’s masterpiece….Superb!’
While an Amazon reviewer stated it was ‘just a fun gangsters book for the masses’.

Why was I a bit disappointed with a novel that apparently took six years of research to write?
Firstly I constantly got a feeling of deja vue as I was reading. it seemed like a composite of The Godfather, Good Fellas, Clear and Present Danger, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men; and as I got further into the book previous events in the book seem to be repeated over and over again. Real life perhaps, as betrayal followed betrayal, but repetitious and overwhelming.

Then the characters never go beyond the shallow stereotypes one sees in gangster movies, there are Mexican killers, Mafia killers, Ex Vietnam CIA American killers and Irish killers:

Callan- the Irish-American stone cold killer who tells his girl friend, Siobhan, he is going straight and hides a Swedish Model 45 Garl Gustaf 9-mm submachine gun under the bed. [Shouldn’t that be Carl Gustav]. Siobhan finds it doing the dusting.

Nora- the good hearted whore, who happens to meet Archbishop Parada in the ruins of Mexico City after the 1985 earthquake and decides to use her position, and his to do some good.
This relationship provides almost the only faint glimpse of humanity and humour in the book.

He smiles again, and nods, and says, ” I’m going to wager that you’re a very successful call girl.”
“I am,” Nora says. “I’ll bet you’re a very successful archbishop.”
“As a matter of fact. I’m thinking of quitting.”
“Why?”
“I’m not sure I believe anymore.”
Nora shrugs and says, “Fake it.”
“Fake it?”
“It’s easy,” she says. “I do it all the time.”

When Archbishop Parada embraces liberation theology you know he will go the way of Big Paulie.

The plot is a blur of conflicts and deals between various ruthless government agencies, the Barrera organization [Tio Miguel Angel, and brothers Adnan and Raul], and another equally violent drug lord Guero Mendez. The action whizzes around from Mexico, to New York [you know a character named Big Paulie is bound to be hit], El Salvador, Honduras, and Hong Kong. You start to believe that all Mexican police agencies from federales to state cops are in the pay of the drug cartels, and all Mexican Presidents!
And as Art’s thirty year struggle to bring down the Barreras goes on and on and on…..surely an editor could have tightened the plot down to 350 pages? With almost ever major character so flawed it is difficult to feel any sympathy for them or interest in their fate. Perhaps that is why the book was such a quick read despite its length.

You wonder if the tragedy going on in Mexico is the real responsibility of the drug traffickers, the CIA, the Sandinistas, the Vatican, Opus Dei, the Mafia, the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party], Right Wing Death Squads, Left Wing Death Squads, NAFTA, or George Walker Herbert Bush.
Is there a solution? If drugs were legalized and supplied by the government tomorrow, would the gangs carry on dealing in people, women and children for sex, body parts, anything people will pay for?

You have to lack human compassion to deal in drugs, and the violence perpetrated by the characters in this book is both horrific and constant. There may be other attendees at Crime Fest, most of whom are female, who may not be able to deal with this level of violence, and the macho attitudes towards women. So be warned if you want to read a Don Winslow book before Crime Fest, and are of a cosy disposition avoid The Power of the Dog.

>HOUSEBOUND

Posted: December 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Heavy snow and slippery ice followed by a case of “man flu” has meant that I have been housebound for two weeks! I have had my flu jab this year, but whatever it was that has been passed on to me by one of the children has knocked me sideways.

After a lovely family Christmas Eve get together, late the following day I started to feel awful and am still lacking in energy, although today I am feeling a smidgen better.
Therefore some of the items I was going to discuss at length will now wait until next year, or go by default.

During this period on television I watched:

David Suchet in a dark version of Murder on the Orient Express. I am one of those people who don’t like television productions to deviate from the plot of the book, but watching David Suchet’s performance as Poirot is always a pleasure.

Rolf Lassgard, as Kurt Wallander, in a rather long winded two part adaptation of Henning Mankell’s Firewall.

Rolf Lassgard, as Wallander, in the superbly acted episode, One Step Behind. I have to admit that Lassgard’s Wallander has grown on me, and it does help that he has such strong support from the rest of the cast. I can well understand how those who saw Lassgard’s performance first regard him as the definitive Kurt Wallander.

A BBC4 program on Italian Noir that was interesting but perhaps had too much commentary from experts, and not enough comment by the authors themselves. I hope this program encouraged readers to try the novels of Andrea Camilleri, Carlo Lucarelli Massimo Carlotto, and Leonardo Sciascia [1921-1989] all of whose work I have reviewed on Crime Scraps.
Romanzo Criminale, the film mentioned on the program, based on the novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo, is one of the best crime movies I have seen, and definitely something not to be missed if it appears on television.
The message of this program was that Italian crime writers set their plots in the real world where because of circumstances there might not be punishment for a crime, even when the police can identify the perpetrator. I don’t think there was quite enough emphasis on the sometimes competing, and sometimes cooperating, movements that have had so much influence on life in Italy, and especially on Sicily; Communism, Fascism, Catholicism, and Mafia.

Italian Noir novels are usually of a manageable length and get their message across with a little subtlety, and even a degree of obliqueness.
Subtlety is not a word you could associate under any circumstances with the 500 page blockbuster, The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow.
I finished reading this book yesterday, and will produce a review in a few days if I am feeling well enough.
One reviewer on Amazon.com said he wanted to put the book down, and have a long hot shower, a sentiment with which I concurred.
I sometimes wonder if I am the only person who reads these books from cover to cover. It is not masochism, but my naturally optimistic nature, because I simply cannot believe that the story is not going to improve.
This was not quoted in the novel, but I was surprised it was not:

‘Poor Mexico, so far from God, and so close to the United States’ attributed to Mexican President Porfiro Diaz.

>MERRY CHRISTMAS

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

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I watched David Suchet take a trip on the Orient Express last night.

This program was screened in the USA back in July, but we have had to wait until now because it is an appetizer for the Murder on the Orient Express film starring David Suchet to be screened by ITV1 at 9.00 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Some of the scenery as the train travelled south from Calais to Paris, Innsbruck and Venice, and then back north to Prague was magnificent. The service seemed impeccable and the food on the train looked superb. The 1920s luxury of the carriages appeared a tempting holiday option for someone approaching important milestones in their life, but having investigated the cost and the fact that the train accommodation lacks en suite facilities I have decided that perhaps this is not for me.
But it was an absolutely fascinating program, and David Suchet, was a charming host, who frequently bubbled over with genuine enthusiasm during the trip. Especially when they let him drive the train!
There have been some brilliant depictions of fictional detectives over the past 30 years on British television, for instance as John Thaw as Morse, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and Warren Clarke as Andy Dalziel, but David Suchet actually becomes Hercule Poirot.
As my late mother- in- law would say “I like a good murder, when is Piro on.”

>REVIEW OF 2010: COUNTRIES

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Of the fifty eight books I read in 2010 a total of fifteen were set in Nordic Countries with a hefty nine from Sweden.

UK 10
Sweden 9
USA 6
Italy 4
Germany 3
Norway 3


>REVIEW OF 2010: SPLITS

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

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In 2010 I read 58 books.
Twenty seven were translated into English, and thirty one were originally in English.

Thirty eight and a half were written by male authors and nineteen and one half by female authors. That odd half author is a result of reading Murder at the Savoy by the husband and wife combination of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

>NORDIC NOIR ON BBC4

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Last night we watched Nordic Noir: The Story of Scandinavian Crime Fiction on BBC4.

We really enjoyed one of the most intelligent discussions about crime fiction, and its ability to address the problems of society that I have seen on television. A lot more than the Stieg Larsson phenomenon was covered, and it even got Mrs Crime Scraps interested. When it comes to crime fiction usually Mrs C is a one man girl, and that man is Tony Hillerman, but this program was great marketing for several superb authors.

There were thoughtful contributions from authors Maj Sjowall, Hakan Nesser, Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, and actor Krister Henriksson.
Henriksson spoke with emotion about the lovely actress Johanna Sallstrom, and convinced me that British actors should not attempt to play introspective Swedes such as Kurt Wallander.
It is like a Swede playing Lord Peter Wimsey.

Hakan Nesser was amusing, as he was at Crime Fest 2009, but he also spoke about the traumatic effect the shooting of Olaf Palme had on the Swedish people. Their 9/11 he called it.
Maj Sjowall spoke about her pleasure at working with Per Wahloo in the evenings on the ten books that make up the story of a crime from 1965-1975.
Jo Nesbo made interesting comments on the effect sudden wealth had on the social fabric of Norway.
Stieg Larsson was praised as a great campaigning journalist, and the Pippi Longstocking genesis of the character of Lisbeth Salander was analyzed.
And of course Krister Henriksson and the other contributors discussed Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander at length.
There were shots of dramatic Icelandic scenery, and the iconic clip of Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur tucking into his sheep’s head in the film Jar City.
Hopefully next week’s Italian Noir program might have some more enticing meals.

Incidentally was Karin Fossum [who was charming at Crime Fest 2008] telling us that she wanted the reader to care about her victims, and the isolated communities they live in that captured Mrs Crime Scraps interest.
My only criticism of the program was that new stars Johan Theorin, and Anders Roslund/ Borge Hellstrom, and leading sellers Liza Marklund and Camilla Lackberg, were not mentioned.

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I am well and truly grounded as the roads and pavements are still covered with snow and ice.






Those of us old enough to remember the English winter of 1962-1963 realise this could go on for several months even until March!

It could mean more reading time?


I only managed to read 58* crime fiction books this year for several reasons:
1] My accident and subsequent operation in March meant that I was unable to concentrate for several weeks.
2] Some of those 58 books were 500 page doorstops, for instance Leif G.W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End.
3] I also read some lengthy, but interesting history books.
4] More family activity.
5] I spent a lot of time reading all the excellent blogs linking in to the Friend Feed Forum.
6] Too much time watching television!

[*At the moment I have started reading another particularly thick 500 page book The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow, which I think might take me through to the end of the year.]

That is enough excuses. The authors new to me that I did I manage to read were:

Petros Markaris**- Che Committed Suicide
Martin Edwards**- The Arsenic Labyrinth
Qiu Xiaolong*- Death of a Red Heroine
Jonathan Valin- Extenuating Cirunstances
David Zelsterman*- Pariah
Deon Meyer**- Blood Safari and Thirteen Hours
Craig Nova*- The Informer
Ernesto Mallo**- Needle in a Haystack
Louise Penny- The Brutal Telling
Leah Giarrantano*- Vodka Doesn’t Freeze
Paul Cleave- Cemetery Lake
Carl Hiaasen**- Skinny Dip
Andrea Maria Schenkel*- Bunker
Teresa Solana**- A Not So Perfect Crime
Barbara Baraldi- The Girl with the Crystal Eyes
Jan Costin Wagner**- Silence
Val McDermid**- Trick in the Dark
Lenny Kleinfeld**- Shooters and Chasers
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom**- Three Seconds
Leif G.W. Persson**- Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End
Domingo Villar**- Water Blue Eyes
Ben Pastor*- Lumen
Gunnar Staalesen*- The Writing on the Wall
Don Winsow **- The Power of the Dog

I have given two asterisks to those authors I definitely plan to read again, and one asterisk to those I might read possibly again.
You can read more about bloggers ‘First Time Authors’ at:

>Private Detective Varg Veum is hired by Sidsel Skagestol, who is separated from her husband, to try and find her teenage daughter Torild, who has disappeared.

Varg Veum begins by questioning Torild’s friends and their parents, but his investigations will lead him through Bergen’s underworld where young women are bought and sold; and the case becomes connected to the discovery of the body of a seventy year old judge dressed in women’s underwear in one of the town’s better hotels.


Gunnar Staalesen has twice won Norway’s top crime fiction prize, the Golden Pistol, and published the first book in the long running Varg Veum series in 1977. The Writing on the Wall, translated by Hal Sutcliffe, dates from 1995 and is the 11th book in the series.

Varg Veum is a pun on the expression in Norwegian, varg i veum which means persona non grata or outlaw. Varg means wolf or culprit. Varg Veum was a social worker specializing in child care until he became disillusioned with the hopeless life situations of some of the children, and left the service to become a private detective.

I did find this book a little bit ponderous and predictable, while the first person narrative limited both the action and possible plot development. That said it was a solid private eye novel with a subject matter, the exploitation of young teenage girls, that possibly needed bringing to public attention in conservative Norway back in 1995. The author obviously feels strongly about his subject matter, but attempts to lighten the mood with descriptive passages that take you to winter in Norway, and are in stark contrast to the harsh reality of the plot.

Around Lille Lungegard Lake the flock of ducks had thinned out considerably. Only the omnivorous gulls tottered about on the half melted ice, pecking around one of the holes near the edge in the hope of finding something to eat.

However the character of Varg Veum came over to me as a bit one dimensional, and there was a jerkiness in the narrative with incidents appearing to be added on to the basic plot. But then perhaps I have become too reliant on plot pyrotechnics and outlandish characters for excitement to fully appreciate a solid private eye story.
Of course reading the eleventh book in a series first is not the best introduction to a character, but the out of order publishing of Scandinavian authors seems almost unavoidable.

‘In other words, the power apparatus! The people who occupy positions of power in society at large also have to be in a position of power when they buy sex too. They have to feel secure and feel they’re on top, literally, so they won’t be challenged just where they feel most vulnerable, if you get my drift.’

I will possibly try another Varg Veum book, and see if the character grows on me, because his fifteen year old social commentary is perhaps even more relevant to our society today.

‘I believe you when you -! You sound just as daft as those social freaks in Child Welfare and places! You’re all just as daft, the whole lot of you! You lot don’t have a fucking clue about-anything-about what it’s like to be young nowadays…’
Suddenly there were tears in her eyes.