Archive for April, 2012

True crime writer Erica Falck discovers an old Nazi medal, an Iron Cross, among her late mother’s belongings. She takes the medal to Erik Frankel, an elderly retired teacher who had studied the Nazi period. When Erik is discovered murdered, and then a friend of his from the wartime period is also murdered Detective Patrik Hedstrom on paternity leave looking after Maja, his one year old daughter, is allowed by Erica to rejoin the rest of the team dealing with an investigation, whose solution lies in events that occurred sixty years in the past.

I have had a very difficult month and at times I could not read for days, but I don’t think The Hidden Child was responsible for that. I certainly would not want to gave that impression, because part of Camilla Lackberg’s very successful formula is to set the reading standard at easy, and the translation by Tiina Nunnally was as always smooth and unobtrusive. 

The title The Hidden Child gave a massive clue to a plot that was fairly standard Nordic fare. I wonder whether the Swedish title “Tyskungen” can be translated differently. This is a plot that gave Ms Lackberg a chance to give the reader her trademark contrasts between domesticity and danger, and in this case between nappies and Nazis, childbirth and concentration camps, families and fascists. It is a formula that has brought her great success, and I think this novel with a sharp back story, and multiple perspectives is one of her stronger efforts. You have to accept that this police team Patrick, Martin, Gosta, new recruit Paula Morales, and their incredibly lazy station chief Bertil Melberg are not the sharpest pencils in the box. But that is part of the charm of this series, none of these guys are going to be rushed into the Stockholm serious crime squad.

Mixed in with the pregnancies, paternity leave, and a multitude of family problems the book contains some vitriolic material spewed out by neo-Nazis, and reading this novel while the Anders Breivik trial was proceeding was a disconcerting experience.

‘A better society,’ said Peter calmly. ‘The people who have been running this country haven’t made a good job of it.  They’ve allowed ……foreign forces to take up too much. Allowed what is Swedish and pure to be pushed out.’

That is very mild compared with the brief sections of Holocaust denial, and a wife beating by a Swedish Nazi thug when concern is shown by the woman for a Jewish family. But then this is starkly contrasted with the problems of looking after a toddler:

He couldn’t even go to the toilet in peace, since Maja had got into the habit of standing outside and crying, ‘Pappa, Pappa, Pappa, Pappa’ as she banged on the door with her tiny fists until he relented and let her in. Then she’d stand there and stare at him with curiosity as he did what he’d always done before in much greater privacy.

Do the domestic issues raised in this book, the long term results of divorce, Erica’s sister Anna’s difficulties in dealing with her teenage step daughter, Patrick meeting up with his ex-wife , Melberg’s salsa classes with attractive Rita detract from the investigation and the more serious issues raised such as the rise of neo-Nazis in the Nordic countries? I could not argue with the volume of sales Camilla Lackberg achieves with her formula, but I still find her cops naive, soft boiled, and lacking in the basic knowledge necessary to be a police detective, and this means her books fall below the level of the best of Nordic crime fiction.

‘This woman has been suffocated ,’ said the doctor, pointing at Britta’s eyes with one hand as he used the other to lift one of her eyelids. ‘Look-petechiae.’

‘Petechiae?’ Martin repeated uncomprehending. 

Extended Quiz Deadline

Posted: April 27, 2012 in Quiz, Uncategorized

My apologies but I blundered [put it down to my age and inability to grasp modern technology] with an incorrect email for replying with answers to the Diamond Jubilee Quiz .

The correct email address, now modified at the quiz, is so the deadline for answers is extended to 13 May.

Anzac Day

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Australia, England, Historical, notes

It seemed appropriate on Anzac Day to link to a post about Petty Officer Percy Kempster DSM Royal Australian Navy my wife’s grandfather.

Those of us in these little islands must never forget the sacrifices made by all the countries of the Empire, and then Commonwealth, in two world wars. I remember searching for my uncle’s grave on the Commonwealth War Graves site and finding one cemetery where  two English soldiers and forty four New Zealanders were buried!

Other Anzac Day posts from Craig at Crime Watch:Lest we forget; a special day downunder. 

And from Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise: Anzac Day 2012: We will remember them 

Is it possible for a woman who cannot relate in an adult manner to other human beings to be involved in law enforcement? But enough about British Home Secretary Theresa May.

I watched my recordings of the new Saturday night foreign TV crime series import, The Bridge, last night and I have avoided reading other reviews so I may be in a very small minority with my opinion. 

Firstly I will definitely miss Montalbano which I found watching to be as pleasurable an experience as reading the books. The scripts seemed true to the books, the casting was spot on, the setting beautiful, and the television captured the essence of Andrea Camilleri’s writing which is all about the wonderful characters and less about clever plots. I do hope we get more Montalbanos on TV in the future. 

Mark Lawson recently wrote in The Guardian an article with the suggestion that we accept flawed foreign TV imports, and they receive gushing praise which would not be forthcoming if they were British. This theory has been touted for some time with regard to books by Mike Ripley at Shots magazine. I can envisage the scene in a dimly lit Copenhagen restaurant.

Sven Svensson [a Swedish TV executive] searching for minute portions of  food on his well designed plate: Thank you for buying me lunch Merethe.

Merethe Knibling [a Danish TV excutive] having eaten her main course in one delicate mouthful: We have a problem Sven that last series we made is no good. We have tried everything detectives in wooly jumpers, detectives in satiny tops, detectives doing the murders, detectives getting killed, detectives sleeping with serial killers, and even forensic psychologists getting blown up, but your latest idea was a flop.

Sven: You mean a detective without a brain, and with the social skills of a rhinoceros.

Merethe: Yes, we have had it rejected by Montenegrin and Moldovan television. But I have been monitoring the BBC website and according to them  Mike Wallace one of the original hosts of 60 minutes, when it began in 1968, went on to interview John F Kennedy. And as the BBC also thought Vidkun Quisling was Swedish, perhaps we can sell this eccentric detective to them. 

Sven: Simples.

There have been some brilliant crime series imports on British TV.

The Wire [USA] was a quasi-Dickensian saga covering various aspects of the problems of inner city Baltimore, a series which had great acting and intelligent story lines. 

Spiral [France] for the first two series had a Gallic flair, some neat plot twists, as well as attractive actors to keep the viewers interest. Braquo [France] was superb television, and showed what a difficult task is faced by an elite task force whose enemies include both criminals, and their own colleagues. 

The Killing [series one] [Denmark] was of course outstanding, and although Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund] and her jumpers became the big star, it was the superb acting of the supporting cast especially Anna Leonora Jorgensen and Bjarne Henriksen as the distraught parents of the victim that made that series. The blending of three plot strands, a police investigation, the family reaction, and a political intrigue  was something new for British television.

When The Killing was televised I can see the BBC and other television companies thinking all this foreign stuff is great. But this reaction is like reading Sjowall and Wahloo, Karin Fossum, or Arnaldur Indridason and expecting every Nordic book to be of similar quality.

The Danish series, Those Who Kill, was standard stuff with rather predictable plots. But the last program in that series did at least raise the question about whether those countries that let murderers out of prison after six years are in fact more civilized than those who sentence murderers to life without parole.

Viewers who think foreign TV crime series are superior may well have stumbled across the ludicrous, and probably very expensive to make Kidnap and Ransom with Trevor Eve stunned into actually dropping his three mobile phones by the death of his colleague. But there is at least one shining example of a good solid well acted British TV crime series on at the moment; Scott and Bailey, a gritty police procedural set in Manchester. This features Suranne Jones as Rachel Bailey, and Lesley Sharp as Janet Scott; but Amelia Bullimore [2012’s Head of Sustainability] as their boss DCI Gill Murray is the star for me. 

I have digressed so back on to The Bridge-Bron-Broen I wondered how long would Saga Noren, the strange Swedish woman detective, last if working for our DCI Gill “Godzilla” Murray? Not  long I suspect.

Saga goes way beyond the pill popping, bed hopping Carrie in Homeland, and is totally unable to relate to colleagues, victims and the general public in a normal way. She has the social graces of a spoilt child, and appears completely bonkers. Luckily her boss Hans also seems to be on another planet. Her Danish colleague, Martin Rohde seems fairly normal, but has a son who stays up all night playing computer games, but then this might be normal nowadays.

There are three strands to the plot, rather like The Killing, with a police investigation of a brutal murder, a rich woman attempting to get a heart transplant for her elderly husband, and a battered mother with her children being sheltered by a social worker from her abusive drug addict husband. Throw in to the mixture some kind of campaign to show the obvious fact that we are not all equal under the law, and that rich people have a better life than the homeless. Toss in a revolting journalist and make Stefan, the social worker, look like something out the 1970s, and perhaps viewers will stick around to see how it all comes together. 

To stick with a crime fiction series on television or in a book you have to like the characters. Sarah Lund, Salvo Montalbano, Gill Murray, Morse, Foyle, Andy Dalziel are all very varied characters but in their different ways they are likeable. Saga Noren is very weird, and despite some clever touches in the plot I doubt whether when the dust has settled The Bridge will repeat the success of The Killing. But then there is always a novelization.  

The results of this poll [now closed] even with such a small sample show that:

1] Books are still number one, and have not yet been taken over in popularity by the Kindle.

2] Surprisingly few people prefer audio books. 

3] I am not the only couch potato who likes to slump out watching  TV crime series.

Thanks to all those who voted.

Diamond Jubilee Quiz

Posted: April 18, 2012 in Quiz

Events, dear people, events have blown my blogging off course, and even marooned my reading in a dark place.

But I have returned hopefully with something that will interest and amuse. 2012 is the year of the Olympics [more on that in a future post] and also of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Therefore to pay respects to Queen Elizabeth I have constructed a Jubilee Quiz to test your crime fiction knowledge with  a book prize to the winner.

I think the Queen, whose birthday is on the 21st April, does a fantastic job, and although her potential successor does not impress, the idea of a President Blair, or President Kinnock, or even a President Bercow is horrifying enough to turn me into a monarchist.

The Queen has reigned for 60 years, so there are 6 questions with 10 marks each. Your answers should be sent to and the closing date for entries is 1 May, 2012. Here we go:

1] What is the “Royal” connection with an Old  Brownstone House at West Thirty-Fifth Street ?

2] Where is the “Queen of Watering Places”?

3] How Royal are Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Lepofsky?

4] Who did Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein employ, and what is the Royal connection?

5] How are a Cornish Duchess and a Frozen Princess linked?

6] Which novel features an assassination attempt on a Crown Prince, and a criminal known as the Prince?

Good luck. 


Posted: April 2, 2012 in China, review

Thanks to publishers Sort Of Books I have just finished an ARC of Border Run by Simon Lewis, whose Bad Traffic was so well received by critics. This involved me in making  a metaphorical long  journey from Scandinavia [after reading three Nordic books] to the border area between China and Burma. 

Will, a keen photographer, and his friend Jake are on a gap year jaunt to South East Asia, when they are offered a one day trip to see a secret waterfall near the border with Burma. 

Howard the man making the offer has a jeep, and is only slightly weird but….

He told me about this amazingly beautiful spot that only the tribals know about, it isn’t in any guidebooks or anything. It’s so lovely…..

What sold the trip to Jake was a chance to meet up with Wa girls. “Tribal girls, the one’s deep in the forest, they haven’t got hang-ups like the brittle city bitches you always meet.” 

We expect things are going to go wrong and they do, and Will begins to wish he had gone to see the tea factory and taken the next bus to Laos.

Simon Lewis is a very talented writer because his vivid descriptions of the forest and the antics of three main characters make you feel you are right there with them on the borderland. The fast moving action is a blur of pangolins, penknives, drugs, forest, Jeeps, China, tribal peoples, smugglers, waterfalls and struggling with crossbows. Perhaps there is a little too much discussion of their situation by Will, Howard and Jake, but this is because you want the action to continue and find out what happens next. At just over 200 pages this book seems almost like an extended short story or novella, but the ending interestingly leaves you wanting more.  

Looking back: March 2012

Posted: April 2, 2012 in memes, Scandinavia, Sweden

One advantage of  reading at my present slow pace [I am only  just about to start book number 15 this year!] is that it makes it easy to pick my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month as part of Kerrie’s meme at Mysteries in Paradise

My Pick of the Month was Exposed by Liza Marklund in one of the new translations by Neil Smith. This book written in 1999 is a clever mixture of a murder mystery, political scandal, and a primer in journalism.