Archive for July, 2011

Sibylla Forsenstrom is a homeless person. Once she was a Chief Executive’s daughter but her unfeeling parents who regarded her more as a possession than a child turned her into an outsider. A great tragedy followed, and now she lives on the streets relying on a regular allowance sent to a post office by her mother probably to assuage her conscience  and to prevent her returning home. She also relies on her wits as she tricks older men in to paying for expensive meals and hotel rooms in Stockholm.

‘Oh God, no!’ ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘My wallet’s gone.’ She rooted in her handbag again frantically.

When one of these men Jorgen Grundberg is found murdered the morning after he has paid for her meal and her hotel room she goes on the run. Then further bodies turn up murdered in a similar manner, and she becomes the most wanted woman in Sweden. Sibylla let down by all around her frantically moves from place to place and then hides in a school attic where she meets an ally, who comes up with a solution to her problem. 

Interwoven with Sibylla’s tense struggle to stay away from the authorities is the harrowing back story of how she came to be homeless, her time in a metal institution, and her life on the streets. This is brilliant crime fiction with a very sympathetic heroine, a neat plot and some nice twists and turns along the way. 

Karin Alvtegen wrote Missing in 2000 , and it was translated into English in 2003 by Anna Paterson.  In 2001 Missing was awarded the Nordic Glass Key, which has also been won by Henning Mankell, Peter Hoeg, Leif Davidsen, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Roslund & Hellstrom, Johan Theorin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Stieg Larsson [twice] and Arnaldur Indridason [twice]. 

A young woman protagonist, an older version of Pippi Longstocking, an outsider with a tragic back story, a girl who has been failed by Sweden’s social services, and is on the run in a story with some computer hacking may seem a little familiar. But remember Karin Alvtegen is Astrid Lindgren’s great niece, [Astrid created Pippi Longstocking] and she wrote Missing with Sibylla five years before Lisbeth Salander made her debut. 

Missing is a superb novel with a beautifully paced tense narrative, and an emotional back story that shows the reader that the Swedish socialist utopia is a myth. 

The sales manager was asking his annual question. He was about as interested in her answer as in some muck on his shoe. ‘So kind of you to ask,’ she said loudly. ‘Mostly we just hangout, boozing and fucking.’ He nodded benignly. A second later, his tiny mind registered her answer, and he looked the other way, plainly at a loss.     

My review of another superb Karin Alvtegen novel Shadow, which was nominated for the 2009 CWA International Dagger.

Preview: Absolute Zero Cool

Posted: July 16, 2011 in Intro, Ireland, notes

I met Declan Burke at Crime Fest in 2008 and realised at once that he was a very funny man. I  have even forgiven him for trying to pass me off as Salman Rushdie,  and claim a $10  million bounty from the Iranian Embassy. It is great news that his new book Absolute Zero Cool has its official launch on August 10th at the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin. 

Below some of the early praise for Absolute Zero Cool, and my own review of The Big O.

More information at Declan’s blog Crime Always Pays.


“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?

            “Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”

            Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.

            Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” – Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

Here is my own review of Declan Burke’s wonderfully amusing debut novel The Big O:

Over the holiday period I read Declan Burke’s novel The Big O.
Frank a crap plastic surgeon has problems, with an ex wife, twin daughters, and the medical ethics committee, all on his back. His golf is not too good either.
He decides to arrange the kidnapping of his ex wife Madge, in an insurance scam, and pocket the ransom money less the kidnappers’ fee.
Frank’s receptionist Karen moonlights sticking up gas stations, and during one of these stick- ups meets hunky Ray, a decorator, who happens to be also the designated kidnapper of Madge. Madge and Karen are friends and Karen’s ex boyfriend Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan is just out of the slammer and is looking for Karen, his 44, his Ducatti and his stash.
Frank is then mugged by Rossi and cop Stephanie Doyle enters the scene and develops a thing for Ray. Then Doug, Frank’s insurance broker,who is sleeping with Madge gets in the way of a golf ball hit by Frank…….
Confused no way, and I haven’t even introduced Anna yet.
Rossi’s partner in crime is called Sleeps because he suffers from narcolepsy, but I can guarantee you won’t fall asleep reading The Big O.
This book is a blunt, rude, crude, politically incorrect, raucus, rumbustious, rollicking, romp of a crime caper novel. The characters are larger than life and the action is convoluted and non-stop. I certainly admire the chutzpah of Declan in writing this, because among all the other stuff….
“He actually said he’d staple your tits together?”….Doyle thinking how they’d need to be big staples,…..
there is a lot of wit and wisdom.
That was when it finally dawned on him: it’s not the way a woman looks, it’s the way she looks at you.
And other gems:
“And you’ve trained for this? Done courses and shit?”
“Believe it. At the university of fucking hard knocks.”
“So you’re not actually, y’know, qualified.”……..
“See, this is the beauty of it,” Rossi said. “Know what kind of qualifications you need to start a charity?”
The Big O is a loveable rogue of a novel and while it is not literature you will have a lot more fun reading it than some labyrinthine incomprehensible Booker prize winner. 

MAIGRET

Posted: July 14, 2011 in France, notes, review, tv crime fiction

July 14th is Bastille Day so I thought it was appropriate to post about the most famous French fictional detective, Commissaire Jules Maigret. 

Maigret became well known in the UK not only through the 75 novels and 28 short stories written by the prolific Belgian born author Georges Simenon from 1931-1972, but a wonderful BBC TV series starring Rupert Davies. This series ran from 1960-1963 with over 50 episodes and it was compulsive viewing, with Rupert Davies receiving awards and the ultimate praise from Simenon himself. “At last I have found the perfect Maigret”

I remember back in the 1970s when two women were murdered in New Malden over one weekend [a very rare occurrence] the local police constable saying that “he had solved the case quicker than Maigret by arresting the victims respective husbands.” Maigret set the standard. 

Unfortunately the Rupert Davies series is not available any more, because the BBC for reasons of economy recorded over their tapes back in the 1960s. But that wonderful actor Michael Gambon appeared as Maigret in an ITV series that ran for 12 episodes in 1992-1993, and surely this should be included in a list of the 10 best crime DVDs. 

Maigret was a commissaire [chief inspector] who worked in the Paris police judiciaire along with his inspectors, Lucas, Janvier, Lapointe and young Torrence. In the French inquisitorial system he would be working under the command of a juge d’instruction, a situation that could cause conflict when media or politics were involved. Maigret famously was a pipe smoker, and enjoyed drinking calvados, beer brandy and white wine. For a character created by an author who had a large appetite for women, Maigret returned faithfully at night to Madame Maigret who was an excellent cook, frequently producing his favourites: calf liver a la bourgeoise, blanquette de veau, and baked fish in white wine. Maigret conducted his investigations in a straightforward calm manner, noting detail and studying the psychology of the suspects. His method was frequently to have no method. 

There is a wonderful resource with absolutely everything you might want to know about Maigret here at http://www.trussel.com/f_maig.htm 

Below is a review of The Yellow Dog that I wrote in December 2007. Happy Bastille Day!


I think it is appropriate for a blog that has been mainly about European crime fiction to finish the year with a review of a book about the detective who introduced a whole generation to the genre.
The Yellow Dog is a classic novella written in 1931 by Georges Simenon featuring his pipe smoking detective Maigret.
When Monsieur Mostaguen, Concarneau’s biggest wine merchant, is shot in the stomach, Maigret, who was in Rennes reorganizing its mobile unit, is sent to investigate.
Then as three prominent citizens are about to drink an aperitif in the bar of the Admiral Hotel it is noticed that in the Pernod there are some floating crystals, which turn out to be strychnine. One of the three Jean Servieres, then disappears and his empty car is discovered with blood stains on the seat.
A mysterious yellow dog is lurking around the hotel, and there are more events to come …..
Crime fiction to be successful needs atmosphere, plot, characters, and a mystery combined together in a sensible cocktail.
In The Yellow Dog Simenon demonstrates his total mastery of the art by creating a perfect mix. We get a cleverly created atmosphere of fear, a real bouillabaisse of a plot, superb characters, and a mystery to untangle.
I particularly liked the way firstly Maigret reads a newspaper article giving details of what has happened, and then later explains the key features of the case to the Mayor. This allows us slow Watsons to organize our thoughts in line with those of the master detective Holmes-Maigret.
Maigret interestingly also gathers all the suspects together for his final explanations in the style of the English country house mystery.
In a surprisingly brief 130 pages Simenon covers an enormous amount of social commentary about life in a small town. He also creates one of the most memorable detectives in all of crime fiction.
Maigret, the incorruptible pipe smoker, calmly thinking his way to a solution amid the general panic.
He drank his aperitif down straight and got to his feet.
“A piece of advice , gentlemen! No jumping to conclusions. And no deductions, above all.”
“What about the criminal?”
He shrugged his broad shoulders and murmured: “Who knows?”
Superb stuff from a master, with more action in a short novella than others manage in a 600 page blockbuster.
Leroy, sitting on the edge of the little iron bed, remarked, “I still don’t quite understand your methods, superintendent, but I think I’m beginning to see….”
Maigret gave him an amused glance and sent a large cloud of smoke out into the sunshine. “You’re lucky, my friend! Especially in this case in which my method has actually been not to have one…..” 

If you watch or read the news over the past week you will have discovered that British newspapers are ………….

This is one of the reasons why we don’t usually buy a newspaper, but recently we have have weakened and started to buy the I [the essential daily briefing from The Independent].  I disagree with a good deal of the politics of the I’s parent paper The Independent, but ‘baby I’ has one redeeming feature. It costs only 20p during the week and 30p on a Saturday. At that price it must cost them money to produce the thing; and I can ignore much of ranting  writing of recently suspended journalist Johann Hari, and others. 

Today’s I actually had some good articles, and Samuel Muston made his choice of the 10 best Crime DVDs. I thought I should share this with you and ask if you thought he had missed any worthy of inclusion. I have thought of one, which I will include in tomorrow’s post. 

1] Prime Suspect: Helen Mirren

2] Spiral

3] Sherlock Holmes: Jeremy Brett

4] Cracker

5] The Killing: the original Danish version

6] Agatha Christie’s Poirot: David Suchet

7] The Wire

8] Wallander: The Swedish version with Krister Henriksson

9] Cagney and Lacey

10] Luther

CRIME SCRAPS POLLS no. 1

Posted: July 12, 2011 in polls

One of the features of WordPress is the ability to conduct polls. I never managed to work out how to do it on Blogger.

These polls are purely for fun but I think we might get some interesting information from them. Obviously most readers are still going to the old Crime Scraps [directed by Google] but hopefully enough people will participate in the polls to make them worthwhile.

FROZEN MOMENT: CAMILLA CEDER

Posted: July 11, 2011 in review, Sweden

Ake Melkersson is having trouble with his car. He seeks help along a lonely country road outside Gothenburg where he has a vague memory there is a garage near one of the farms. When he gets there he finds a body. The victim has been shot in the head and then run over by a large vehicle, his lower body has been completely crushed. Ake goes back to the crossroads and phones his young neighbour Seja Lundberg to accompany him to the murder site because he is so rattled and upset.

Seja is a trainee journalist and intrigued by the murder she claims to have been with Ake when he discovered the body. 

The victim is garage mechanic, and part time photographer, Lars Waltz, who is the second husband of the owner, Lise-Lott Edell. The crime is investigated by Inspector Christian Tell, and his team of detectives. Tell immediately spots that Seja has lied about discovering the body, but he unwisely becomes involved with this attractive woman. 

A separate back story beginning 13 years earlier in 1993 follows the life of Maya Granith, a young girl with a very disturbed mother, Solveig, and a younger brother Sebastian. Maya leaves home and goes to study at Stensjo Folk High School, where she becomes involved with Caroline, the caretaker. When Maya returns home to rebuild her relationship with her mother, it leads to tragedy. 

When a second brutal murder occurs using the same method, Tell is baffled as to what the connection is between the two victims.

Frozen Moment is Camilla Ceder’s debut novel, and has been translated by  Marlaine Delargy who also translates Johan Theorin and Asa Larsson’s novels. I read the first 100 pages and although I was enjoying it switched to reading Devil’s Peak on my Kindle [while we were away] and came back to it later. Perhaps this was a mistake on my part and why I found Frozen Moment to be a curate’s egg of a novel. I enjoyed the 2006 story and all the details about the detectives, Christian Tell, the older grumpy Bengt Barneflod, Karin Beckman, and her marital problems, Andreas Karlberg, and the “young prince” Michael Gonzales. There is a lot of compelling detail in the book including social commentary about the struggles of families in the countryside with farms and small businesses, the story of Seja’s rejection by her former boyfriend, and tales of teenage rebellion and angst. Are there too many side stories about peripheral characters? Not when they contain brilliant comments about Swedish society.

It wouldn’t have been difficult to get some woman from town to paint herself a romantic picture of a country kitchen and a herb garden, working herself up until she would have married the devil himself. But to get hold of a woman who would roll up her sleeves and throw herself into her work without going on about equality and self-fulfilment, that was tricky.

Unfortunately I thought the 1990s back story held up the narrative, and I found it a bit dense and turgid. Are there now too many back stories in crime fiction? 

I did not really warm to Christian Tell, who seemed very self centered in that he did not know anything about his long time boss Ann-Christine Ostergren, and like many fictional male detectives has serious relationship problems. The front cover blurb states Move over Wallander but I hope that in future books Camilla Ceder writes more about the team in the style of  Sjowall/Wahloo rather than too much wallowing in Henning Mankell type introspection. Frozen Moment has the potential to develop into a good series, and hopefully the very uptight Tell will eventually thaw out.

Tell bit his tongue in order to avoid saying what he really thought, namely that Beckman’s job wasn’t to act as some kind of therapist, but to ask the questions that could help them find the murderer as quickly as possible.  

OUTRAGEOUS BLURBS

Posted: July 9, 2011 in Iceland, notes
Tags: ,

Maxine of Petrona very kindly sent me an uncorrected proof copy of Arnaldur Indridason’s new Erlendur novel, Outrage. I was going to leave my comments about the cover blurb until I had read the book and reviewed it, but I could not restrain myself.

Why do the people in the publishing industry act like a rabbit caught in car headlights when they blurb? They throw Stieg Larsson stickers around like confetti, and compare authors as disparate as Enid Blyton and Val McDermid providing both material and amusement for bloggers. 

On the cover of Outrage we are told “Crime’s best kept secret ….Until now…”

But we are informed by Harlen Coben that Indridason is “An international literary phenomenon”, and on the back cover “Over 6 million books sold worldwide”.

 Obviously that best kept  secret must have leaked out. 

MID YEAR 2011

Posted: July 9, 2011 in notes

I have managed to read 25 books in the first half of the year, which is good considering the events that have occurred.

Of the 25 only 7 were originally written in English, and 18 were translated. 9.5 were written by female authors, and 15.5 written by male authors.

Unsurprisingly Sweden lead the way with 6 books, followed by Italy with 4.

The books I particularly enjoyed reading  were:

Devil’s Peak -Deon Meyer  

A Lily of the Field-John Lawton

Mercy -Jussi Adler Olsen

An Uncertain Place -Fred Vargas

The Leopard-Jo Nesbo



Test

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Sweden

I have just relocated from Crime Scraps and therefore need to try a few things before beginning regular posting. Please bear with me as after 1182 posts on one platform I will struggle at first. 

>WIN A CAMILLERI

Posted: July 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

>

Those kind people at Pan Macmillan have sent me a paperback edition of Andrea Camilleri’s The Wings of The Sphinx, and the hardback of The Track of Sand.


The Wings of the Sphinx reviewed here is short listed for this years CWA International Dagger.

The Track of Sand, reviewed here, is the 12th book in the superbly entertaining Inspector Montalbano series.

Just answer the questions in this short quiz, and email your answers to thbear08@googlemail.com by 31 July.
I will draw a winner and a runner up from the correct answers, and the winner can choose which of the two books they will receive.

1] What happened on Via Fani in Rome on 16 March 1978?

2] Name the crime writer who wrote a book about the events of 16 March, and its aftermath, and who was born in Racalmuto, Sicily?

3] Who was the Italian novelist, dramatist and Noble Prize winner for literature who was born in Agrigento, Sicily?

4] Many of the events on the Italian Front [1915-1918] in the Great War have almost been fogotten, but two of the most famous people of the twentieth century were involved in that Italian conflict.
One was an ambulance driver, and one a sergeant in the medical corp was a stretcher-bearer. Who were they?

5] Who was the poet, journalist, novelist, dramatist and self proclaimed superman whose followers seized the city of Fiume on 12 September 1919?

Good Luck.