Archive for April, 2011

>SELLING SCANDINAVIANS

Posted: April 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Yesterday I was very relieved to discover that the Royal Wedding dress did not have a marketing sticker on it that said ‘The Next Princess Diana’.


Is it not possible for publishers to ignore Stieg Larsson, and Henning Mankell, and try to sell authors on their own merits?

It was bizarre that Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing was sold with a sticker of Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander, when the book had no connection with the Ystad detective at all except that part of the book was set in Sweden.

But then we also had Johan Theorin and Jo Nesbo both marketed as the ‘Next Stieg Larsson’. Camilla Lackberg sold with ‘If you like Jo Nesbo you will love this’ stickers. Hakan Nessser was favourably compared with both Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell by someone who obviously thinks their books are similar.

Even Professor Leif G.W. Persson was sold with a sticker that proclaimed he was reminiscent of Henning Mankell and of course Stieg Larsson, but not as pretty as Camilla Lackberg. [I added that last bit myself, in case you wondered.]
Even Camilla Ceder’s debut novel Frozen Moment comes with the blurb ‘Move over Wallander’.

In my excitement I mistakenly posted on Friend Feed that Villain by Shuichi Yoshida did not mention any Scandinavians on the cover, but then remembered an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Shuichi Yoshida, Japan’s Stieg Larsson?
Enough is enough I thought as I viewed the cover of Camilla Lackberg’s latest novel The Gallows Bird, sent to me by the very generous Maxine of Petrona.
No stickers, no mention of other Scandinavians with the blurbs on the front cover merely stating ‘Seven Million Books Sold’ and ‘The hottest female writer in Sweden at the moment’.
Do male crime writers ever get described as the ‘hottest’?
But in small print on the back cover is the sentence ‘Translated by Stieg Larsson’s and Henning Mankell’s Steven T. Murray‘.
Do writers get upset when their translator is marketed as another more famous writers property? I should not think so if it boosts sales, and I expect that will happen despite the very small print.
Read Steven T Murray’s complete list of translations here.

Reviews of some excellent books translated by Steven T. Murray.

I would have pointed out that the photo of Camilla Lackberg on the back cover of The Gallows Bird is far too small, but for the fact that the Swedish female crime writer closest to my age is Maj Sjowall.

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The body of a fisherman, Juan Castelo, known as El Rubio, is washed up on the beach at Panxon. His hands have been tied in a way that made it unlikely that he had committed suicide. Taciturn Galician Detective Inspector Leo Caldas, and his fiery Aragonese assistant Rafa Estevez begin a slow methodical investigation that involves looking into the loss of a fishing vessel, the Xurelo, over a decade earlier. Three young fisherman including El Rubio had swum to safety, but the elderly Captain Antonio Sousa had gone down with his boat, and his body was recovered later in a trawler’s net. But the superstitious locals believe they have seen Captain Sousa near the harbour.


Death on a Galician Shore was translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto, and is the second book by Domingo Villar that features Inspector Leo Caldas. This novel won the 2009 Brigada 21 Prize for best crime novel in Spain, following up on the success of Water-Blue Eyes which won of the Brigada 21 Prize for best first crime novel, and the Sintagma prize.

This crime novel is a straightforward police procedural in which Leo Caldas, questions witnesses and suspects, and gradually with a little luck solves the case. As would be expected there are a few twists and turns along a trail scattered with false clues.
The questioning and re-questioning of suspects is a little repetitive, but it is definitely not only the criminal investigation that makes this book such a great read. The descriptions of Galicia and the subtle interplay between the characters take the reader right into the action. You can almost smell the plates of seafood, or the salty sea breeze and feel the rain in your face blowing in off the Atlantic.

When he went to university, his father left his job in Vigo and moved permanently to his wife’s old family home, which he had gradually restored.
The land, initially providing comfort in his time of affliction, was now a profitable business, and the nights of weeping were no more than a shadow in the memory.
Wine, the downfall of so many men, had been his salvation.

Throughout the book Caldas and his relationships with his father, Uncle Alberto, Estevez, Alba, the woman who left him, and retired Doctor Trabazo play a key role in creating atmosphere in this beautifully written novel.
There are scenes set in the hospital between Leo, his father and Uncle Alberto which are both witty and bittersweet; so when the doctor tells Alberto he will be as good as new in a month, he asks:

‘Have you still got your Book of Idiots?’
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‘Well, add that doctor to it,’ he said, pointing feebly at the door through which the doctor had departed.

The differing attitudes to suspects, and to life, of the lonely laconic Leo Caldas and the rumbustious Rafa Estevez, from Zaragoza, add a little spice of humour to the story.

You know I’m not keen on dead people, Inspector,’ said Estevez a little sheepishly.
‘And the living aren’t too keen on you,’ murmured Caldas,……..

There is also humour involved in Leo’s performances on the local Vigo radio station as he struggles to improve community relations by answering questions on ‘his program’ Patrolling the Waves despite the various distractions.
I really enjoyed reading Death on a Galician Shore despite the fact there were no pyrotechnics just a straightforward story told with skill, and a lot of empathy for the characters.
A successful European crime fiction series that is neither Nordic, Italian or French, would be a bit special.



Leg of veal, boned and chopped small, was simmered over a low heat all morning together with onions,leeks, carrots and seasoning. After about three hours on the hob, the chick peas were added and, at the very end a sofrito of onions, garlic and paprika.

>MORE DETECTIVE FEVER

Posted: April 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Earlier in the month I posted about the Six Detective Series to Savour selected by Johanna McGeary of Time magazine, and asked ‘What other Detective Series Do You Enjoy?’

I was grateful to receive a stimulating and varied list of detectives, although unfortunately blogger was misbehaving and ate some replies.

HarryBosch/Mickey Haller: Michael Connelly
V.I.Warshawski: Sara Paretsky
Kinsey Milhone: Sue Grafton
Sharon McCone: Marcia Muller [the only author on this list I have not read]
Eduard Martinez and Borja ‘Pep’ Masdeu: Teresa Solana
Inspector Adamsberg: Fred Vargas
Salvo Montalbano: Andrea Camilleri
Harry Hole: Jo Nesbo*
Erlendur: Arnaldur Indridason
Thora Gudmundsdottir: Yrsa Sigurdardottir
and of course Martin Beck: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

I would add a few of my own choices:

Morse: Colin Dexter
Rebus: Ian Rankin
Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe: Reginald Hill
Reg Wexford: Ruth Rendell
Annika Bengtzon: Liza Marklund
Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind: Martin Edwards
Inspector Sejer: Karin Fossum

Some of these series are in their dotage, or retirement, and some are still only in nappies. But I would suggest they should all exhibit features common to good crime fiction: great characters, good plots, compelling atmosphere, believable situations, a simple style, and with some exceptions* a degree of violence and gore acceptable to most readers.

The classic Martin Beck books are particularly brilliant in that they encapsulate almost every factor that has gone on to make the modern crime fiction novel so popular.

a] Social commentary
b] Cynicism
c] Team work, and the difficulty of working in a team.
d] Humour, light or dark.
e] A distrust of superiors.
f] A feeling of loneliness and despair expressed by various characters.
g] Superbly drawn characters.
h] A brooding atmosphere.

No human being, particularly a young attractive woman, is so alone that there is no one to miss her when she disappears.
[Roseanna: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1965]

I am looking forward to starting my Martin Beck re-read project later in the year.

Update: Even More Detective Fever. Did I really forget the following?

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren: Hakan Nesser
Kurt Wallander: Henning Mankell
Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn: Tony Hillerman

>ANZAC DAY 2011

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

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A day to remember.

Expeditions which are decided upon and organised with insufficient care generally end disastrously.


Lloyd George, Memorandum to War Council, December 1914

>SERIOUS CONTENDERS

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

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The short list for the CWA International Dagger is to be announced on Friday 20 May at Crime Fest in Bristol. Therefore it is time to read some of the serious contenders beginning with Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar.


Cristina came to take their order for the main course. She offered them bacalao a la gallega, cod with potatoes, or squid in its ink with rice. Caldas chose the squid.

A promising start.

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Kati Hirschel is the owner of a crime fiction bookshop in Istanbul, a city where she was born before returning with her parents to Germany at the age of seven. She returned to Istanbul and has now been living there for thirteen years reacting like a local ‘Istanbullu’ to the daily trials and pleasures of the city.


Her old friend from university Petra Vogel contacts her, because she is in Istanbul to make a movie. A few days later Kurt Muller, the film’s director, is found murdered in his luxurious hotel suite, at the Hotel Bosphorus. Someone has thrown an electric iron into his bath. Kati decides in the tradition of Miss Marple to investigate.

This novel is full of interesting details about the complex relationship, and cultural differences between Turks and Germans. It could even be considered more of a social commentary and travelogue than a crime fiction novel. Kati Hirschel herself is a confused character; a Turkish citizen at home in Istanbul, but never fully Turkish, and also as is explained not fully German.

There is a lot of classic stereotyping in the narrative and sharp dialogue, which at times does get a bit annoying, for instance there really must be some Germans with a sense of humour. ;o) Do Turks only eat kebabs and toasted cheese? Do Germans only eat schnitzel, and sausage, while drinking beer?

“A German without beer in the house is like a football team without a manager,” he said.

But Kati’s mother lives in Berlin and her attitude to ‘Gastarbeiters’ is not much better.

“And now they’re using our money to set up integration courses for the Turks. To be paid for by Mrs Hirschel.”

Kati’s burbling information dumps about friends, fatty kebabs, potential lovers, police corruption, and local mobsters hold up the progress of the plot, and some of her behaviour is frankly stupid. [End of chapter 5]
But as the book progresses Kati calms down, the reader can enjoy the bustling atmosphere of the city, and her character starts to grow on you.
Although this debut was slightly disappointing, with its exotic location and its feisty female investigator the series has the potential to develop hopefully in the Turkish location. I don’t think readers would want Kati Hirschel to make too many trips to Berlin, and become yet another Northern European detective.

Author Esmahan Aykol was born in 1970 in Edirne, Turkey, and now lives in Istanbul and Berlin. Hotel Bosphorus is the first of three Kati Hirschel mystery novels, and has been translated into English by Ruth Whitehouse.

: the European Union should stand firm because Turkey has set its sights on becoming a member and is taking decisive steps in that direction. That was why the Turkish police were showing respect for human rights.

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We are very lucky that there are still houses in England where the visitor would not be too surprised if Miss Jane Marple, or Lord Peter Wimsey with Harriet Vane answered the door.

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Marco Buratti aka The Alligator is back in Massimo Carlotto’s latest Italian noir novel Bandit Love, translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugar.


When Sylvie, the girlfriend of Marco’s closest friend Beniamino Rossini is kidnapped, Marco, “Old Rossini”, and Max la Memoria, must tussle with some of the new style mafias that have come to dominate Northeast Italy.

This is a short classic example of Carlotto’s writing that leaves you slightly breathless and wanting more. The ending is abrupt and somewhat enigmatic, but the 177 pages are packed full of action, corruption, wisecracks, murders, unpleasant characters, politics, ideas and beautiful women.

” Is she another Lacan-quoting shrink like the last three?”
” No, I seem to have run out of those,” he answered, resentfully. “She’s a substitute teacher, a militant member of the worker’s collective, divorced, no kids.”
“Cute?”
” Not only is she cute,” he exulted. “She smokes, she drinks, she’s not taking a creative writing course and she doesn’t have a gym membership.”

The first person narrative by Marco tries to direct the reader through a complex harsh brutal tale of revenge and double cross and triple cross. With all the various characters the plot was a bit incoherent as it involved the theft of narcotics from the high-security, armor-plated storeroom in the cellar of the Department of Forensic Toxicology at the University of Padua, and gangsters from every country in the Balkans and further afield.
Just as all the characters are villains of one degree or another, so no country comes out as beyond reproach in the tangled mess Europe is in.

In the meantime, the law -abiding citizens of Northeast Italy continued to entrust their elderly relatives to illegal-immigrant nurses and caregivers; their house were still being cleaned and their meals were being cooked by undocumented house-keepers.

This is a typical Carlotto book angry that the old Robin Hood style criminals, who won’t deal in drugs or traffic women, have had to make way for the more vicious new breed from abroad. Angry at the treatment of women, and angry at the politicians and police who let it happen.
If only it were longer……

“We’re old school gangsters, relics of the past that’s gone forever. They’ll eat us alive.”

>THE READING ROOM

Posted: April 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

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If I ever win the Euro Millions Lottery I am going to buy this house just for the name. ;o) Another reason is that it is situated in an idyllic Somerset village with an excellent pub.

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Marek Krajewski’s Eberhard Mock series is traveling back in time and in Phantoms of Breslau [translated from the Polish by Danusia Stok] we are now in 1919.


The naked bodies of four young men are found battered and horribly mutilated on an island in the River Oder.
“All they are wearing are sailor’s hats on their heads and leather pouches over their genitals.”

The vice department of the Police Praesidium are called in with its chief, Criminal Councillor Ilssheimer and his best men, Criminal Assistant Eberhard Mock and Criminal Sergeant Kurt Smolorz. The dead men’s strange attire is not the only reason for the vice department being brought in, Mock is personally involved, a note has been left demanding that he ‘admits to a past mistake, and believe……’

When two potential witnesses questioned by Mock are murdered the mystery deepens. Mock struggles to cope with his own demons, stubborn superiors and dissolute subordinates as he attempts to find the murderer, and protect his loved ones.

The Eberhard Mock series is unusual, and features such an original protagonist that it is perhaps not for everyone. I really enjoy these books but don’t know what that says about my character.
Decadent, eccentric, and outrageous characters have sexual liaisons with beautiful women, whilst also over eating and drinking vast quantities of schnapps. Mock, is violent like Gilou in Spiral, but has a classical education and that makes him a much more complex anti-hero; although of course they both share a taste for prostitutes.
The narrative with its episodic timed passages raises the tension, and also draws the reader into Mock’s world with the descriptions that capture the atmosphere of the city. You can almost smell the tobacco, the beer, the smoked fish, and the blood.

Admiring the edifice of the modern market hall, he relished a chilled glass of schnapps, which cut the taste of the Bismarck herrings whose silver skins were slashed with black criss-crosses. He divided a hot potato with his fork and slathered half of it with the soured cream coating the herrings.

Phantoms of Breslau is a little bit different from the average crime fiction book, with its secret societies, a unique protagonist, truly obnoxious characters, and the historical setting this gripping novel continues an increasingly impressive series. With so many books using the same repetitive plots and locations it is a pleasant surprise to read truly unique crime fiction with a fascinating historical setting.

A good client in taverns and brothels. A good client with whom nobody had any sympathy-no innkeeper and no whore. And why should they sympathize with him? After all how were they to know that some monster was slaying people and writing him letters!

The former German city of Breslau is now the Polish city of Wroclau; Marek Krajewski, a lecturer in Classical Studies at the University of Wroclau, explains the changes in the ethnicity of the city’s population in the interview.