Retrospective-January 2012

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Italy, memes, notes, spy story

I enjoyed all the books I read in January and really don’t want to  make a distinction between them based on their quality in order to choose a pick of the month. But as I want to join the meme at Kerrie’s excellent Mysteries in Paradise  blog I will choose not necessarily the best, but certainly my most intriguing read as my pick of the month.

That was I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni featuring a detective with an unusual ability to see the dead, and an interesting historical setting in Italy during the 1930s. 

During January I managed to review six books without [apart from Ingrid in Andrea Camilleri’s The Potter’s Field] a Scandinavian in sight, which must be some achievement in the current climate. I can thank Bitter Lemon Press and Hersilia Press for looking further afield than Scandinavia for some crime fiction gems. Hersilia Press, named after the wife of Romulus, have recently brought us books by the previously mentioned Maurizio de Giovanni, Alessandro Perissinotto, and Luigi Guicciardi; while Bitter Lemon Press have in their stable Gianrico Carofiglio, Cuban Leonardo Padura, and Argentinean Ernesto Mallo. What these authors don’t yet have is the marketing  machine behind the Scandinavians.

I have nothing against good Scandinavian crime fiction, after all I read six of the brilliant Martin Beck series over thirty years ago and until they were reissued in Harper Perennials spent hours looking for the missing four books in second hand bookshops, but it is the stupid reaction by the main stream media I find annoying. Do the hysterical stickers and blurbs on books such as “for fans of The Killing”, “Move over Wallander”, “Step aside Stieg Larsson”, “Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson”, “If you like Stieg Larsson, you’ll love Asa Larsson”, “The Next Stieg Larsson”, really help the reader to decide if this is a book they will enjoy?

Is it now easier for a weak book with exploitative violence, but set in the Nordic countries to be published than a fine example of Italian, French, South African, Australian or Greek crime fiction? Probably. And obviously the quality of the plot and the ability of the characters to inspire interest should be the major factors deciding whether a story gets published, not whether it is set in Copenhagen or Malmo.

My reading plan, despite the fact I have about about twelve Nordic books on my TBR shelf, is to try and alternate my reading between Nordic and the others, although when the CWA International Dagger shortlist is announced I could well be forced back into full Scandinavian reading mode.   

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – I really like your idea of making a concerted effort to read crime fiction from all over, no matter what’s being “hyped.” As you say, there is truly excellent (and if not excellent, at least intriguing) crime fiction being published in many places.

  2. Norman says:

    Margot-yesterday the weather turned very cold for the first time this winter so after three Italian books in a row I started Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, the superb Icelandic crime writer. 😉

    The ARC cover kindly sent to me by dear Maxine contains some ludicrous blurbs, but I am sure the content will be very good.

  3. Maxine says:

    Excellent post, Norman, and I think it’s great to vary one’s reading, despite the current commercial emphasis on Nordic crime. I don’t think I’ve read any or many Nordic crime books recently, having been put off a couple of the most recent ones by their subject matter (stickers apart!).

  4. I admit the Scandinavian books are appealing to me at the moment because they are mostly cold and I am mostly hot…anything which takes my mind of the summer is a good thing 🙂 But I agree it is good to try to virtually visit lots of countries…so far this year I’ve been to Ireland, Russia (with a side trip to Afghanistan), New Zealand and South Africa in addition to the usual haunts of England, Australia and the Nordic block. I’m in Italy at the moment with Carlo Lucarelli.

  5. KerrieS says:

    Thanks for taking part in the meme Norman, and for your intriguing choice

  6. “…a weak book with exploitative violence”

    What can I say? We are also some Scandinavians who are tired of that particular subgenre, but there must be readers who disagree as that is what the publishers buy and market.

  7. I am so glad to see you name Maurizio de Giovanni’s I Will Have Vengeance as your most intriguing read and pick of the month for January! It is always gratifying to me when someone enjoys a book I’ve translated as much as I’ve enjoyed translating it! Ricciardi is indeed an intriguing figure.
    Anne Milano Appel,
    Translator of I Will Have Vengeance

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