Archive for August, 2011

Anna Pavesi is a 38 year old psychologist living in Medieval Upper Bergamo near Milan, with only her cat Morgana, and her elderly downstairs neighbour Signora Ghislandi for company. She is short of money after her divorce, and the inadequate and late payment she receives from local co-operatives for her work with addicts. Therefore when wealthy upper class Benedetta Bellandi Serzoni offers her a healthy cheque to investigate the strange disappearance of her half sister Patrizia Vitali’s body from its coffin she reluctantly accepts. Benedetta never knew her half sister, but was arranging the re-internment of Patrizia’s coffin in the family vault when the small excavator smashed the lid, and it was discovered that the coffin was empty. Anna is not a detective, but thinks that if she studies Patrizia and the life she lead before the dreadful hit and run accident that killed her she will find an answer.

Anna travels to Vittuone, west of Milan, where the hit and run occurred, and there she finds a one meter ninety tall  doctor, danger and Una Piccola Storia Ignobile.

Blood Sisters is Alessandro Perissinotto’s first book to be translated into English by Howard Curtis who does a very good job, although I do prefer the Italian title. Blood Sisters is the first in a trilogy of novels featuring  psychologist Anna Pavesi, the others being The Last White Night, set during the Turin Winter Olympics, and The Titanic Orchestra. There is a lot of more information about the author’s career, books, literary prizes etc at his official website

When I hear the word literary I may not quite release the safety catch on my Browning, but I do look around for the charity book bag. But in this case Blood Sisters was given to me by Maxine of Petrona so I knew it would be a very good read, and it was. Thanks Maxine. 

The book is written in a first person narrative which starts with Anna digging in the countryside near Vittuone for a body, and then goes back to remember the events of the previous ten days. The male author certainly seems to pull off the difficult task of putting himself into the mind of a  female character.

The plot is fairly simple, with just a few twists and turns, but it is Anna’s personality, the humour, the wonderful characters, the descriptions of the industrial Po Valley near Milan, and the social commentary that makes Blood Sisters such a great read. We are given a real taste of Italy with its funicular railways, industrial estates, medieval towns, restaurants, multiculturalism, delicious food, smart cars, beautiful women, unfaithful husbands, football and Italian mamas. 

…..and dialed my mother’s number. ‘Hello.’ I said.

‘Nice to know you’re still alive,’ she retorted, without giving me the chance to continue. ‘Assuming you are alive: there are dead people who communicate with their loved ones at seances more often than you do.’

I shall definitely be on the look out for the sequels, and can highly recommend this book, which once again as with a lot of Italian crime fiction packs a lot  more into 253 pages than many a 600 page door stop. 

‘Do you have many foreign workers?’ ‘They are all foreign. But not European. I mean not from the European Community or whatever they call it now. I have a few Belarusians, a few Moldavians, a few Albanians, but most are Moroccans.’

But being an Italian book it considers not only society’s problems, but Stefano, Anna’s her ex-husband’s fanatical love of football, and the other two Italian obsessions.

‘Me, too. Then, when I got to thirty, I suddenly changed my mind, and now I love soups and broths. We change with time.’  I could have told him that there was just one taste men never lost, their taste for twenty year olds. 

On the Coast of Somewhere Beautiful*

Posted: August 29, 2011 in England

I hope everyone on the East Coast of the USA will be safe in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Last night we went to walk along the Budleigh Salterton seafront, and the contrast with the pictures coming in on the TV from New York was stunning. I felt I should share them with you to prove it is not always raining in Devon, most of the time but not all the time. Agatha Christie’s Torquay is to the extreme right of the photo about 30 miles away on the other side of the River Exe Estuary.








* The title is taken from a song  by Kenny Chesney, former husband of Renee Zellweger.

Historical crime fiction is frequently based on real events. The gap between the events and the books about them can be very  lengthy such as the 35 years in the case of John Lawton’s A Little White Death published in 1998, which was based on the Profumo Affair of 1963; or much shorter as in James Lee Burke’s 2007 novel The Tin Roof Blowdown based on events surrounding the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Last year around the time of the 2010 UK Election I commented that our political leaders lacked some of the toughness of the contenders for the US Presidential Election in 2008. You would have had to go some to match the political shrewdness of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or Hilary Clinton, and the tough life experience of John McCain. Our lot seemed just a rather bland bunch of rich Oxbridge graduates in comparison. Would this come back to haunt us, when PM Cameron and Deputy PM Clegg were faced with a crisis?

Well the recent UK riots proved a point, it seems everyone in the political establishment from the Prime Minister , and Mayor of London, down to the police borough commanders in London were all on holiday. No one took charge, things drifted while the riots spread and escalated, until after a few days David Cameron decided he just had to take his mind off bombing Libya, to finally return from Tuscany to look after this country. 

Contrast that failure with the recent rapid  reaction of President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg and the East Coast state governors, who were all there directing operations and coping with the far more menacing situation of Hurricane Irene. President Obama read the situation correctly, Irene would not be another Katrina, better to be overcautious than to  be negligent. Hurricane Irene has tempted me to pull down The Tin Roof Blowdown from the bookshelf, and insert it into my reading plans for  the next few weeks. That is what events do, they alter plans. 

My first contribution to the Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge is to have another fun poll to discover who is your favourite Nordic female crime writer. My apologies if I have forgotten your favourite, but the write in option was very popular during the last poll, when apparently I had drunk too much of my medicinal Bushmills, and forgot Ireland!

Please cast your votes before midnight on 10 September when the poll closes.

One man’s joke……..

Posted: August 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

I am currently reading Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissinotto, and yesterday came across a passage that had me chuckling until I realised that one man’s joke might be another’s social comment on my old profession. I would be the last person in the world to defend the reputation of dentists, especially as my own past colleagues include a murderer, and a convicted insider trader. That image of dentists and lawyers constantly on holiday might well have some  justification, although of course I was the exception. 

Whatever the case, Dr Callegari appeared less than a minute later. One meter ninety tall, with a tan redolent of tropical beaches, the kind of mahogany-coloured tan you might see on a dentist or a lawyer, not a hospital doctor in mid-career. 

The August edition of the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival has been posted. Thirteen contributors have produced twenty posts, and you can also get details of the special birthday celebration posts due on 15 September, which will replace the September carnival. 

The photograph shows part of Torquay Pier where Agatha enjoyed roller skating in her younger days.

 Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge is to celebrate 25 years of Sisters in Crime, “a non-profit organization to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.” You can read all the details about the challenge at Barbara Fisters Place.

I am not one for challenges or memes, as I now want to read without any constraints or time limits, but living so close to Agatha Christie’s home at Greenway I can’t resist participating informally. 

The phrase ‘Sisters in Crime’ reminds me my mother was one of SEVEN sisters; en masse they were a formidable group, all with slightly different personalities. Sadly only one sister, well into her 90s, remains from a family of eleven children.

I also remember that in October 2006, in the early days of Crime Scraps, I was intrigued to read a post from thriller/mystery critic David J. Montgomery entitled “10 Greatest Detective Novels”. If you follow the link you will see not only were all the novels written by men, but by North American men. You don’t have to be a member of Sisters in Crime to challenge that selection process. Over the next few months I shall be posting about books by some of my favourite women crime fiction writers including:

Ruth Rendell, whose earlier Wexfords revived my interest in crime fiction, Donna Leon, whose books are always a pleasure to read, Maj Sjowall the Godmother of Swedish crime fiction and Asa Larsson one of her metaphorical daughters. 

The photo shows the front of Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday home on the River Dart in Devon.  


Posted: August 22, 2011 in Argentina, review

Ines suspects her husband Ernesto is unfaithful, and one  night follows him to his clandestine meeting with his secretary Alicia. She suspects Alicia is the woman who signs herself All Yours and she has dubbed ‘Truelove’, and is not bothered when she sees Ernesto push Alicia into a tree branch. She watches as Ernesto discovers Alicia is dead, and then drives home. Ernesto pushes the body into a lake, and when he confesses to Ines that Alicia was sexually harassing him she provides him with an alibi for that night. Meanwhile Lali, their daughter, is pregnant by her boyfriend, but they are too involved in their own troubles to notice. Several months later Ines realises that Ernesto’s current lover was not Alicia but Alicia’s niece, Charo, and plots a revenge over her husband, which ignores the fact they have a daughter, who needs them desperately.

I really enjoyed Claudia Pineiro’s first book to be translated into English Thursday Night Widows, but was disappointed with All Yours, which has none of the social comment or subtlety of the earlier book. I am probably in a small minority when I say that for me this tale of infidelity, betrayal and revenge was far less perceptive than Thursday Night Widows. It was a hard hitting, sparse book with a neat structure. Ines narrates her chapters in the first person, daughter Lali’s chapters consist purely of dialogue with her friends or strangers, and there is one short passage with Ernesto narrating in the first person. 

Why then did this not work for me?

Firstly Lali’s dialogue pieces in which she converses with working class Argentineans are translated as if these people are cockneys. Lali is referred to as “Mum” which I never worked out was because she was pregnant or the cockney for Ma’am. But when one character shouts “Blimey” I was rapidly transported from Buenos Aires to the Walworth Road, Camberwell and any atmosphere created was lost. Sometimes leaving an exclamation in the original language might be the better course of action.

But the main reason I was not keen on All Yours was that Ines, and Ernesto, were such selfish unappealing characters that I really did not care what happened to them. Ernest is I assume the typical Latin American macho male, and Ines the passive wife with buckets of rage boiling beneath the surface, but willing to accept infidelity as the price of a comfortable life, and social status.

“Ernesto’s a wonderful man,” I thought. He’s not one of those skirt-chasers who play the field, then come home to off-load their guilt.”Darling, I can’t lie to you, I’m afraid I went to bed with your best friend,” they say, to which the only fitting reply is “Lie to me, you bastard-it’s the least I deserve!” 

How sad for Lali with parents like that…….but then perhaps that is what the author wanted the reader to feel. In which case it did work? 

My review of Thursday Night Widows.

During a police raid on a shop Detective Frank Frolich sees that there is a woman customer in the line of fire and he drags her down. The woman lays beneath him….She was probably about thirty years of age, smelling of perfume. Her blue eyes glinted like sapphires. Later at her instigation they begin a steamy sexually charged affair, and Frolich becomes completely obsessed with this black haired beauty, Elisabeth Faremo.

The way her soft breasts rose and fell to the rhythm of her breathing before he thrust the breath out of her. The desire raw, untamed, hungry-the kind that leaves in its wake guilt, shame, abortions, fatherless children, HIV.

Frolich discovers that Elisabeth’s brother Jonny is a career criminal, and that she has had a relationship with an older woman lecturer, and he becomes slightly wary but still infatuated. When there is a robbery and a security guard is killed the police receive a tip off that it is Jonny and his two associates. They are arrested, but then have to be released when Elisabeth gives them an alibi and mentions Frolich’s name. Frolich’s boss Gunnarstranda tells him to take a holiday to straighten himself out. But then Elisabeth goes missing, bodies begin to mount up and the plot becomes more complex and while the twist at the end might not be too difficult to predict that does not spoil an excellent police procedural.

My copy of The Fourth Man tells me on the back cover that this is the first in the series of K.O.Dahl’s Oslo Detective Mysteries. It isn’t it is number 5, written in 2005 by Norwegian K.O.Dahl and superbly translated by Don Bartlett [who also translates Jo Nesbo] in 2007. Surely the test of a good translation is that you should not realise it wasn’t written in English in the first place, and this is the case with The Fourth Man and Don’s other translations.

He pulled open the door with surprising energy. Who had he been expecting? Elisabeth? The person on the doorstep was as far from this fantasy as you could imagine. Police Inspector Gunnarstranda was standing there with both hands in his coat pockets, regarding him with a look he had only seen his boss give suspected criminals.

There are only a certain number of variations in plots, situations and characters in fiction, and in a crime fiction series it is what the author does with those situations, and the emphasis he or she places on each character that decides the success of the series. The Fourth Man is a well written story all about obsession of various kinds, and it concentrates on the emotions and thoughts of Frolich, the much younger of the two cops who are the protagonists in this top class police procedural series that now comprises eight books. The main characters are sharply drawn, and there are little cameos of the minor cast, the complex plot is engrossing with a few surprises, and very importantly the narrative descriptions are evocative of Norway with lots of crunchy snow, ice and misty rain. And despite all the Nordic angst, and the bodies mounting up, there is still room for that dark Scandinavian humour and social commentary that makes the reader think twice. 

‘Turned out the man was on his way back home-to Calcutta. He was unhappy in Norway, always cold and had no friends.’ ‘Yes, well, he’s not the only one.’

I have read and very much enjoyed The Man in the Window [2001-number 3 in the series] and you can read my review at Euro Crime, there is also a link on the K.O.Dahl website. The Last Fix [2000-number 2]  sits on my TBR shelf but in the bizarre order this series has been translated, Lethal Investment [1993-number 1] is due out in English next month, so I might wait until I have read that book, before I read that one. It takes a good police procedural series to survive a publisher’s quirky decisions and the Gunnarstranda and Frolich Oslo series is an excellent series, and I am looking forward to reading the rest when translated. 

The Gunnarstanda-Frolich series-Norwegian titles and publications dates [with English titles and dates in brackets]

Dødens investeringer utgitt første gang i 1993 [Lethal Investments 2011]

En liten gyllen ring utgitt første gang i 2000 [The Last Fix 2009]

Mannen i vinduet utgitt første gang i 2001 [The Man in the Window 2008]

* Lille Tambur utgitt første gang i 2003

* Den fjerde raneren utgitt første gang i 2005 [The Fourth Man 2007]

Svart engel utgitt første gang i 2007

Kvinnen i plast utgitt første gang i 2010

Isbaderen utgitt første gang i 2011  

The results are in for Crime Scraps Poll no 2, and the main conclusion is that I did not list the correct countries! 

There were 36 votes cast, and very surprisingly not a single one for France [four times winner of the CWA International Dagger] or Argentina, whose Ernesto Mallo was picked by several of us as favourite for this year’s International Dagger. My excuse for not picking Ireland as one of the countries listed was that we have already had a mini hot spot there with some fine writers  such as Ken Bruen, Declan Burke, Rob Kitchin, Tana French, Benjamin Black, KT McCaffrey, Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan,  Brian McGilloway and others producing some stimulating crime fiction. A poor excuse for a mental slip up. 😮

The results: South Africa 8, Italy 7, Ireland 5, Australia 4, Canada 2, Spain 2, Germany 2, Greece 2, and one vote each for Eastern Europe, Scotland, New Zealand and Japan. 

Thanks to everyone who voted.