Archive for November, 2011

Crime on TV

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Denmark, France, Italy, tv crime fiction

Sarah Lund will be back this Saturday 19 November with The Killing [Forbrydelsen] II on BBC4. This will round off a golden period for British TV crime fiction watchers.

We have been spoilt over the past few weeks with several really top quality crime shows shown on TV. Top Boy [British] on Channel 4, Romanzo Criminale [Italian] on Sky Arts, and Braquo [French] on FX. Each of these shows has been compared with the classic American crime saga The Wire. But each is a unique show with its own qualities and although none match the depth of The Wire, they come pretty close in entertainment value and also in provoking discussion of the complex issues involved.

Channel 4’s Top Boy was a mini-series played out over four successive nights it encapsulated the desperate poverty of life on one of  London’s terrible estates with their combination of architecturally offensive tower blocks, and violent drug dealers. The acting was superb especially Malcolm Kamulete as 13 year old Ra’Nell, and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as his mentally ill mother Lisa. Top Boy was probably an accurate portrayal of parts of modern day London which meant you rarely saw a police officer and the action and outcome was depressingly bleak. My only criticism would be that it made heroes out of brutal drug dealers Dushane [Ashley Walters] and Sully [Kane Robinson], and that for a Cockney crime lord Bobby Raikes [Geoff Bell] was both seriously short of manpower and very naive for someone who supposedly had ‘been in this business for 20 years’. A bleak, very depressing, but brilliant series that might hopefully combined with the riots earlier this year blast our politicians out of their self satisfied stupor to perhaps deal with some of Britain’s inner city problems.

Sky Art’s Romanzo Criminale is equally violent, but is somewhat more complex. Beginning in Rome during the 1970s and based on the award winning movie of the same name [itself based on a novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo] and tells the true story of the rise and fall of the Banda della Maglia. In an attempt to take control of all of Rome, two young hoodlums Il Libanese [Francesco Montanari] and Dandi [Alessandro Rioja] link up with Freddo [Vincio Marchioni] in a struggle with the existing order of gangsters, the police and eventually among themselves. The police play a bigger part in this 22 episode series as Commissario Scialoja [Mario Bocci]  battles his superiors as he attempts to smash the gang and put them in prison. But of course this being Italy, Scialoja is also trying to get the beautiful whore Patrizia away from Dandi, as both men want her as their girlfriend; and then politicians seek to use the gang for their own corrupt purposes. 

Braquo, which is on FX where The Wire made it’s British TV debut, features extreme violence, murder, corruption, drugs and a very sexy woman, and that is just the police, which considering the writer Oliver Marchal was a police officer for many years is a little worrying for anyone planning a holiday in Paris.  This 10 episode series tells the story of an elite police squad led by Eddy Caplan [Jean-Hugues Anglade] who go rogue using the same methods as those used by the criminals they are trying to catch. When they kidnap a low life from hospital to get him to retract a story about a colleague [who committed suicide under pressure from an Internal Affairs investigation], things go badly wrong and the squad gets in deeper and deeper trouble. The other members of this leather wearing group are gambling addicted Walter [Joseph Malerba], cocaine addicted young Theo [Nicolas Duvauchelle] and the one who looks good in tight leather trousers Roxane [Karole Rocher], who has some trouble with her conscience. The very thin veneer of respectability than covers the French political and judicial systems is ripped away and the corrupt venal underbelly exposed. Production, music, casting, settings and everything else make Braquo an absolute masterpiece of a crime series, but it is not viewing for the sensitive. 

What I find particularly fascinating is that all three series whether by chance, or intention, represent certain salient features about their respective countries.

Top Boy, England, the almost total absence of  police on the streets; Romanzo Criminale, Italy, a distinct problem with corruption and beautiful women; and Braquo, France, a violent police force, and cynically crooked politicians.

Now for Denmark’s The Killing II and Sarah Lund. 

“It was the best of times”

Posted: November 15, 2011 in England, Off Topic

I have been distracted and fallen behind with my reading because of the recent celebration of my son’s wedding at beautiful Maunsel House, where apparently Chaucer wrote part of Canterbury Tales. After terrible weather for several days the morning of the wedding broke with the sun shining brightly on the young couple, and their guests.

The celebration may not have been quite as expensive as the country’s other major wedding in late April, but we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. A lot of champagne was drunk by all, with some having a little bit more than others. If you look very carefully on the photo you might see an Alfred Hitchcock like cameo appearance by the groom’s father.



Armistice Day

Posted: November 11, 2011 in England, Historical, notes

 A Peace Tea in the East End of London celebrating the hard won victories of 1918. Virtually every family in this photograph had lost either a husband, a father, a brother, or a son, but sadly a generation later would be forced to fight again. 

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes

Till beauty shines in all that we can see

War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise

And fighting for our freedom, we are free.

From Absolution by Siegfried Sassoon


Several of my blogging friends have participated in this meme so I thought I would give it a try.

1] The book I am currently reading:

Prince by Rory Clements, which I am reading on my Kindle. I am really enjoying this rattling good adventure story set in Elizabethan London, full of historical details and gunpowder plots. 

2] The last book I finished:

The Cleansing Flames by R.N.Morris.

3] The next book I want to read:

The Somme Stations by Andrew Martin which has been recommended by Rob Kitchin from The View from the Blue House. This will be the fourth book I will have read from that 2011 CWA Ellis Peters Award shortlist.

4] The last book I bought:

Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson. I saw that Ohlsson’s third book had been shortlisted for the Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2011 so naturally with my total lack of sales resistance I had to buy her debut novel, the first to be translated into English by Sarah Death.

5] The last book I was given:

A Deception at Lyme by Carrie Bebris. Usually I am given books by the wonderfully generous Maxine, Countess Petrona, whom I owe enough postal charges to revive the Greek economy, but this one was sent totally unsolicited from the publishers in New York, who must have looked at a map and said he lives near Lyme.

A Deception at Lyme is the sixth mystery in the Mr and Mrs Darcy series, so obviously Jane Austen fans must really like these books. I might read this one as the blurb on the front flap reads: In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the Cobb-Lyme’s famous sea wall…….I have visited Lyme Regis several times, and despite once walking on the windswept Cobb have never yet met Meryl Streep, Elizabeth Darcy or even Jane Austen. [Photos of  Lyme Regis, with a view towards the Cobb, and The Cobb Gate Fish Bar!]

6] Which was the last book you borrowed from the library? 

We haven’t used our local library since it was used to collect signatures for political petitions. 

7] What is the most recent e-book you read?

I am reading an e-book at the moment, Prince by Rory Clements, and the e-book I read before that was Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer. I looked at the paperback edition of Devil’s Peak in a bookshop and noticed it had a very small font. I would have struggled to read that, but on my KindleI was able to increase the font size to something that was suitable for my elderly eyes.

8] What is the last translated book you read?

This was Misterioso by Arne Dahl, the first in the Intercrime series.

9] What was the first book you read this year?

It was The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards, the fourth book in his superb Lake District series featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cold Case unit, and local historian Daniel Kind. I am looking forward to reading  the next book in the series, The Hanging Wood.

10] Which book are at the top of my winter festival present list? 

The Hanging Woods by Martin Edwards would be a good choice as it would add some symmetry to my reading year, and I definitely want to continue reading the Lake District series.

11] Which so far unpublished book are you most looking forward to reading?

A difficult choice, but probably Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen to see if he maintains the standard set in Mercy, and if we learn a little more about Carl Morck’s mysterious assistant  Assad.

Links to some of the other memes on this theme  The View from the Blue House, Petrona, Reactions to Reading, Mysteries in Paradise,  Books Please and The Game’s Afoot.        

St Petersburg, Russia April 1872

While magistrate Virginsky watches a spectacular fire set by arsonists a man whose face resembled a bespectacled axe head gives him a manifesto to read.  He sees a kindred spirit in the young magistrate, a potential recruit for the revolutionary cause.

The ice on the Winter Canal is thawing and as young sailors plunge into the water they find a body  dumped into the canal before the water froze over. The sailors call on Kozodavlev standing on the bridge to call the police or the City Guard. But Kozodavlev runs away and before he can be tracked down by the investigating magistrates Porfiry Petrovich and Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky his apartment is destroyed by a fire and the body of an adult male is found in the wreckage with six young children dead in the neighbours apartment. 

As Porfiry and Virginsky pursue their case Pavel Pavlovich is tempted  to infiltrate, or perhaps even join, the revolutionary cell responsible for printing political manifestos, arson and murder. 

With a large cast of memorable characters, such as the frighteningly disfigured brutal policeman Salytov, the dissolute aristocrat Prince Dolgoruky, and the “new woman” Tatyana Ruslanovna there is always plenty to keep the reader interested in and concentrating on the action.

I am very pleased that the The Cleansing Flames has been shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters, because there are very few authors who can blend accounts of horrendous crimes with entertaining humour.

Roger Morris achieves this while exposing both the stupidity and bureaucratic incompetence at the heart of Tsarist Russia, and the naivety of the revolutionaries:

‘You are aware,’ began the younger librarian, who was evidently more senior in rank,’that one of the titles you have requested is a restricted publication.’ 

‘ I was not aware of that. I was not even aware that there is a list of restricted publications.’

‘That is hardly surprising. The list itself is restricted.’

The story emphasizes the historical fact that revolutions are usually made by  the middle class professionals, writers, poets, and professors, who don’t have a clue as to what they are unleashing. 

‘There are some men who are, undoubtedly, motivated by a universal love of mankind.’ Porfiry leant back in his chair as he warmed to his theme. ‘But they find that the mankind they love does not correspond exactly to the sordid, ungrateful, greedy men and women they see around them.’ 

The Cleansing Flames with a combination of meticulous research, an interesting plot, an intelligent thought provoking narrative, and dialogue that fits the time and place is an excellent but not particularly  fast read. But it is well worth taking the time to get immersed in the story, and look out for the hilarious incident towards the end of the book that reminded me of a scene in Where Eagles Dare with Richard Burton. 

With the ongoing court case over changes in public sector pensions I could not help laughing out loud at a passage in The Cleansing Flames by R.N.Morris. Once again crime fiction is at the cutting edge in both social commentary and finding solutions to problems. I would mention that the contrasting magistrates Porfiry and Virginsky in the St Petersburg mystery series remind me of Morse and Lewis, and Dalziel and Pascoe. There can’t be much higher praise.  

‘Are you the owner of the house?’ demanded Salytov sceptically. ‘I am.’ ‘The retired Arab?’ ‘That is correct.’ 

‘You do not look like an Arab. Your skin is whiter than mine.’ ‘I am not an Arab by race. But I am one officially, you see.’

‘No, I do not see. Some kind of fraud has been perpetrated here, I’ll warrant.’

‘No fraud. My transformation to Arabhood was sanctioned by the authorities. I went through the proper channels. It was my wife’s idea. She heard that Arabs retired from the service with twice the pension of ordinary Russians. “Ask them if you can retire as an Arab,” she said. And so I did. I put forward a petition, stating my reasons-‘

‘Reasons? What reasons could you possibly have?’

‘Well my main reason was that I could do with the extra money.’