Archive for December, 2011

[continued from part one]

8] Favourite new authors discovered

A bit repetitive but those I have mentioned previously Jussi Adler-Olsen, Arne Dahl, and Tom Franklin. 

9] Most hilarious

Those who have been reading the blog will know that I found The Dinosaur’s Feather by Sisssel-Jo Gazan rather funny, and posted about it at Back story blues…..

I am still not convinced that the author was being entirely serious with this book, but if she was my apologies for making fun of her style.

10] Most thrilling unputdownable book

I think this was The Vault [Box 21 in the USA] by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom. I felt this was a far better book than Three Seconds which won the CWA International Dagger. The Vault left me shaking at the end as I realised over the last few pages that it was going to end with that dreadful twist. 

11] Book most anticipated

I had been looking forward to the new John Lawton Troy book A Lily of the Field, and it did not disappoint.


12] Favourite cover

I like the covers of books to be evocative of the story and not just a stock photo taken out of the archive.

Therefore my favourite cover was that of Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar

And the book was very good as well.

13] Most meaningful character

I think Larry Ott in Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is someone I will remember for a long while. He is absolutely desperate for a friend, and loneliness is a dreadful problem in western countries where today close family ties are the exception rather than the rule.

14] Most beautifully written book

This is too difficult for me as I am not a judge of literary excellence, I just like a good story simply told. 

15] Book that had the most impact

At the time I read it The Vault [Roslund-Hellstrom] but I suspect that the book I just finished, and have not reviewed yet, The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry about the assassination of President Kennedy will have a great impact.

16] Book you can’t believe you waited till 2011 to read

This was Missing by Karin Alvtegen. I have enjoyed all her books and Missing won the Nordic Glass Key back in 2001. Way before there was Lisbeth Salander there was Sibylla Forsenstrom. 

That’s it.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.   

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I discovered this meme at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading and have decided to expand it a little as choosing just one book is tricky in some categories. 

1] Best Book of 2011 originally written in English

The difficulty in choosing a best book even when you read only 19 originally written in English is remembering the impact a book you read in January or February had on you in comparison with one you read two weeks ago. But I would vote for:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin 

2] Best Books of 2011 translated into English

I read some brilliant translated fiction this year.We are so lucky to have at this time a group of superb translators able to bring these books to an English readership.  

My choices are two very different but equally exceptional books: 

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen translated by Lisa Hartford aka Tiina Nunnaly 

Trackers by Deon Meyer translated by Laura Seegers 

3] Worst Book of 2011

Most authors regard their books like children, and get very upset at negative reviews. Therefore as part of my New Year resolution to be kinder to everyone, except useless politicians and biased journalists, I am not going to select a book in this category. 😉

4] Most disappointing books

There were a couple that fitted that category. 

The Troubled Man-Henning Mankell: which was very depressing to read if you were a man of a certain age facing some of the problems Wallander does in the book. Actually he is younger than me! Was Henning Mankell suffering a Conan Doyle moment with his popular protagonist? It seemed like it.

River of Shadows-Valerio Varesi: I expected a more appealing protagonist, Soneri was dull and the plot development was catatonic. 

5] Most surprising in a good way

Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was so hyped and had won the CWA Gold Dagger and also been nominated for an Edgar that I was very surprised when it was in fact very good. I rarely agree with prize judges, with the exception of two who weren’t involved in these awards, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise to enjoy this book so much.

6] Book you recommended to people most

The book I recommended to people during the year was Nemesis by Jo Nesbo translated by Don Bartlett. Several people I know had started with The Redbreast and found the WWII backstory  heavy going, and I encouraged them to continue with the series as Nemesis and The Devil’s Star are in my opinion still among the best Nordic crime fiction I have read. 

7] Best series you discovered

This is a difficult one because I think usually you need to read two or three books to discover a series which you are going to stick with through to the end. I have already “discovered” several great series in previous years, which of course I carried on reading this year. Hakan Nesser’s idiosyncratic Van Veeteren stories, Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva and the Brazilian Federal police investigations, Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel in pre-war Germany series, John Lawton’s social history of England Troy series, Donna Leon’s Brunettis, Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano mysteries, Ernesto Mallo’s Inspector Lascano’s struggles in Argentina, Fred Vargas and her Inspector Adamsberg, Asa Larsson and her Rebecka Martinssson cases, Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole, Martin Edwards and Hannah Scarlett, Aly Monroe’s Peter Cotton …….the list goes on and on. 

But this year I discovered Jussi Adler Olsen’s Department Q in Mercy and Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series in Misterioso.  Both books translated by the charming Tiina Nunnally.

I hope the publishers arrange for both these series to get translated  in a timely fashion, and the correct order, because they could prove the next big thing in Nordic crime fiction. 

[To be continued]

My reading year 2011

Posted: December 30, 2011 in notes

Here are the charts that tell the story of my reading in 2011. I only read 48 books but it was a case of quality rather than quantity. 

Tidying up

Posted: December 29, 2011 in notes

I am just tidying up a few loose ends before the end of the year.

You can read about Braquo my favourite discovery of the year at Euro Crime.  Series one ended with the sort of cliffhanger that makes scanning the schedules for series two an essential activity. 

Don’t forget you have only a few more days to get in your entries to the Winter Festival Quirky Quiz.

A couple of days ago I finished reading Ben Pastor’s Liar Moon, the second book in the Martin Bora series, and my review should appear on Euro Crime in due course.

I am now reading Charles McCarry’s 1974 classic The Tears of Autumn, a book I read about 30 years ago, but it seems as fresh today as it did then. I thought I might read fifty crime fiction novels this year, but I will fall short as the McCarry is only number 47. But five of those last six books that I have read are a very good reason for delaying the choice of best/favourite reads of the year until that very last day. 

Time to weigh up the reading year……

The season of giving

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Some people might regard me as easy to buy for, or very boring, or just as the man who wanted more turkey curry on 28 December.

This was a year in which I read about, political cover ups, financial scandals, Nazis, serial killers, thugs, drug dealers, human traffickers, lesbians, spies, police corruption, police violence, sex, detectives, blackmail, evil doctors, obsessed academics, tortured family histories, devious lawyers, crooked businessmen, nice principled women, nasty unprincipled women, natural disasters, depressed cops, natural disasters, fishermen, drunken cops, vampires, revolutionaries and gang warfare. And that was just in the newspapers, luckily I read some crime fiction novels as well.

 


The season of good will

Posted: December 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,

Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat:

If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do,

If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you! 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and Winter Solstice to everyone. I am having a short break from blogging as the house will be full to the brim over the next few days, but hopefully I will be back next week with the first of some best of 2011 posts. 

Sweet Money was first published as Delincuente argentino [Argentinean criminal] in 2007, and continues the story of Lascano, known as Perro [the dog], the honest cop left for dead at the end of Needle in a Haystack. The narrative has moved forward to Buenos Aires in the early 1980s when the junta has fallen, and the democratically elected President Alfonsin is in charge.

‘He looks at the window of the President of Argentina. I bet that’s where he is the fat faggot bastard, that traitor. He got rid of the entire general staff. Passed a bunch of useless laws. Made us think the only ones who’d be put on trial for actions against the guerillas would be the top commanders, the members of the Junta. But when it was their turn to sit in the dock, they opened thir big traps and said they didn’t know what was going on.’

Lascano has been protected during his recovery by Chief Inspector Jorge Turcheli, who has been appointed Chief of Police. But on Jorge’s first day he is murdered by corrupt drug dealing cops known as the Apostles. Now they intend to find and eliminate Lascano.

Meanwhile Miranda [known as Mole] has been released from prison with a few problems, does he have AIDS from the one relationship he had inside; will his stash of money still be there so that he can live with his beautiful wife, the Duchess, and his son in comfort; and will the attractive Susana, the Duchess, even be waiting for him or will she have a new man. 

Lascano is desperate to get hold of some money so he can leave the country and track down his lost love Eva. But he must stay away from the Apostles and gets a job investigating the bank robbery committed by Miranda, and his gang. Miranda’s botched attempt to rob a bank has left him with a million dollars of dirty money, and put him at risk in a world where corrupt cops think of money first and justice second. As well as all this Marcello, a young idealistic prosecutor, wants Lascano to help him clear up the Biterman case [featured in Needle in a Haystack] by confronting the brutal Giribaldi who has now been dismissed from the military and is fuming at his situation. 

You can smell the barbecued meat, the fair winds, the beautiful women, and the prevailing atmosphere of fear, as the story pounds to its conclusion.

This is another superb book from Ernesto Mallo with an evocative atmosphere, great characters, historical information, plots, sub-plots and mini-plots all packed into a mere 220 pages. A smart lesson to those who think you have to write 500 pages to in order to produce a complex thriller. I like the way Mallo’s books use the technique of putting blocks of dialogue in italics with just the speech; it gives an immediacy and almost documentary feel to the novels. I know some people find this annoying but that originality is for me far better than lines of of dialogue with ‘he said’, ‘she said’. 

There are some books that leave an indelible impression on the reader. This in my opinion is one of those books, because the quality and content of the writing is breathtaking and sometimes it leaves you disturbed and thoughtful.

Through the cobbled streets and paved avenues echo the shouts of the tortured, the murdered, the young people thrown from aeroplanes into the sea and the cries of  fathers, mothers, friends and lovers who will forever be missed. Return? To what? To whom? The murderers still walk around, enjoying their freedom and good health. When he thinks about his city, it seems like a place of perennial night, and its name, Buenos Aires, like a cruel joke.

Sweet Money is one of the best thrillers I have read in 2011, and certainly a must read for anyone interested in the recent history of Latin America.

My review of Needle in a Haystack  

Last night we watched the 2010 movie Inside Job which was not about some small bank robbery, but an analysis the financial crisis of 2008. 

To listen to the mumbling of distinguished economics professors such as ******** ********* as they tried to explain their actions, and explain reports they wrote such as ‘Financial Stability in Iceland’ would be amusing in other circumstances. [I have removed the name to avoid any legal ramifications.]

What was really depressing was that the some of the very people who lead us down the deregulated garden path to financial meltdown, and presumably walked away with their personal fortunes intact, are back advising President Obama. 

Only a few hours before I had been reading Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo, published in Argentina in 2007 as Delincuente argentino and come across this passage proving that crime fiction can usually be found ahead of the game. 

Banks used to look like prisons; now they look like a cross between a boutique and a brothel. The walls are covered with posters showing young men and women, smiling and prosperous, offering package deals with bombastic names, that include bank accounts, credit cards, loans for the life you deserve.

Everything carefully designed to neatly package and tie up the customer. The deviousness here is so obvious that even the guy who designed the poster should be put in jail. 

A VINE IN THE BLOOD: LEIGHTON GAGE

Posted: December 16, 2011 in Brazil, review

Each of the books of Leighton Gage about Chief Inspector Mario Silva and the Brazilian Federal Police gives the reader a slightly different twist on the crime fiction novel.  A Vine in the Blood Number five in this really excellent series is a police procedural who- dun-nit with naturally a Brazilian twist. Brazil is very rich country with enormous divisions between the wealthy and the poor. The main interests of the country can possibly be summed up in a few words, football, football, and football. [North Americans should substitute the word soccer for football]

The FIFA World Cup is approaching fast with Brazil as the host country, when Juraci Santos mother of Tico ‘The Artist’ Santos, the best footballer in the world is kidnapped. Are the kidnappers Argentineans determined to put Tico off his game, and swing the balance in their favour? [No European team has won the World Cup in the Americas, Brazil has won five times in 1958,1962,1970, 1994 and 2002.] Or could it be a rival Brazilian footballer aiming for revenge or to enhance their own career? Or could even Tico’s girlfriend, the beautiful but unpleasant model Cintia Tadesco  be involved in some way?

This is a very high profile case, and the sycophantic Director Nelson Sampaio knows that if Tico is distracted Brazil may suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Argentina, with subsequent damage to his own career. There is also the matter that the kidnappers killed two young maids after getting into the house.

The team of Federal cops Mario Silva, Arnaldo Nunes, Hector Costa, and Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves, begin a systematic investigation, and along the way we meet some interesting characters including Fiorello Rosa, a professor of criminology, who had used his expertise to become a kidnapper, and Pedro Cataldo, an honest federal judge virtually imprisoned in his office to avoid assassination. We also learn a lot about Brazilian society; football, kidnapping, samba, the illegal numbers racket, and other aspects of this fascinating, beautiful and dangerous country. [I was pleased to read this book after my son and daughter in law had returned safely from their honeymoon in Rio de Janeiro.] 

Leighton Gage’s skill is that he imparts a lot of information as an integral part of the exciting narrative, or the smart and frequently amusing dialogue between his characters. Everything flows along so smoothly that suddenly you have read 300 pages  and are eagerly awaiting the next investigation. You can start with number five in the series as each of the stories is self contained, but if you do you will certainly want to go back and read the rest of this top quality crime fiction series. 

Them with all their bullshit about the integrity of the common man, the noble worker, all that crap. If that’s what you think, Chief Inspector, I got news for you. What the common man wants is luxury.

*********************************************

More about Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva and the Brazilian Federal Police series.

My review of the fourth book in the series Every Bitter Thing with links to reviews of the other books and an interview with Leighton:

The son of Venezuela’s Foreign Minister is found in his apartment in Brasilia shot in the stomach, and then battered to death. With such a high profile victim the Federal cops lead by Chief Inspector Mario Silva are immediately brought in to investigate.

Silva, along with his team, his nephew Hector Costa, the veteran Arnaldo Nunes, and Haraldo ‘Babyface’ Goncalves, discover there have been several murders with exactly the same MO.
They are puzzled when they find out that the victims were passengers in business class on the same TAB flight 8101 from Miami to Sao Paulo.
The English country house party mystery brought up to date? But with a very Brazilian ending.

Leighton Gage uses Silva’s investigation into the lives and motives of the passengers to give us a superb portrait of some facets of life in Brazil. It may not be flattering to this fascinating country, but it gives the reader an exciting tense thriller with lots of dead ends, and red herrings, as Silva’s investigators close in on the perpetrator. To lighten the mood there is plenty of light hearted humour and backchat in the dialogue between the cops, but that does not delay the rapid pace of the plot.
A police procedural would not seem authentic without an objectionable boss, and in the sycophantic Sampaio this series has one of the most toadyish around.
With all the interesting detail, and the exotic location this is becoming one of my must read series.

Leighton Gage’s books, despite all the information about Brazil and the switching between different perspectives of the investigators, are very easy reading with a smooth flowing style. Therefore I was able to read the 281 ages of Every Bitter Thing in two sessions, with the only downside that I am now waiting eagerly for book number five in the series.
Thanks to the author and publishers, Soho Crime, for my ARC.

Read my reviews of the rest of the Mario Silva series:

Winter Festival Quirky Quiz

Posted: December 14, 2011 in Quiz

This quiz may not be as difficult as those I have set in the past, simply because my old brain is seizing up, but I hope it will test your little grey cells a little.

You will have till midnight 3 January 2012 GMT to get your entries in, and the winner will be able to choose  their prize from a selection of new books.

Please reply with your answers to thbear08@googlemail.com. Good luck.

Here we go:

1] The two people in the photograph both have presidential connections; one also has a connection with Christmas Day and a fictional detective? Explain. 

2] Which crime fiction book is linked with a sacrifice in chess, a low upholstered box seat, and a town in northern Bulgaria?

3] Which Nordic crime fiction writers are, or used to be:

(a) A Minister for Justice. (b) A civil engineer (c) A dentist (d) An economist (e) A policeman (f) A junior expert on Middle East policy (g) a criminal.

4] What did John Gardner and Charles McCarry have in common? And who was “embarrassed, puzzled and more than a little angry”? 

5] In the Danish TV series The Killing II Sarah Lund’s partner is called Ulrik Strange. Name two crime writers who also use the name Strange for policemen.

6] A slang name for a capital city, and a large Asian cat. What brought them together? 

7] What is the link between one of the eight wives of  a jazz clarinetist, and a prize winning crime fiction author? 

8] Who worked together on the Abercrombie forgery case, and the Baron Altara case?

9] Beginnings and endings:

(a)Which crime novel begins with:

They found the corpse on the 8th July just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was fairly well intact and couldn’t have been lying in the water long. 

 (b) Which crime novel ends with:

‘Is he going to be alright?’ he heard himself ask. ‘Tell me he’s going to be all right…’ 

10] Who reads Lady Frances Verney’s memoirs?