Archive for July, 2012


Posted: July 31, 2012 in photo essay, Quiz

I wondered if anyone could identify all the ladies in this photo montage of Female Crime Writers. I am sorry no prizes so just stick your answers in the comments, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for all the authors to be identified.

Black Skies is another superb crime novel by Arnaldur Indridason, and this one moves Sigurdur Oli, in the spotlight. That is because the  previous main protagonist in the series, Erlendur is still travelling out east, and the second member of the triumvirate Elinborg is dealing with the case described in Outrage, the last novel in this series.

So the reader gets Sigurdur Oli’s slightly different perspective of Icelandic society, and a case about money, greed, child abuse, revenge and financial deceit.

Sigurdur Oli attends a school reunion where feeling low because his relationship with Bergthora is on the rocks, and he has just suffered a rejection from an attractive blonde, he is asked by his best friend, Patrekur, to help with a problem. Patrekur’s brother -in-law Hermann and his wife got involved in a trendy wife swapping group, and now a couple Lina and Ebbi are attempting to blackmail them with photographs. Hermann’s wife is vulnerable because she is trying to get ahead in politics. Sigurdur Oli goes round to apply some pressure to the couple, but on arrival finds Lina in the process of being attacked by a thug with a baseball bat. The attacker escapes and Sigurdur Oli not wanting to involve his friends has difficulty explaining why he was present at the time. The investigation is complicated when it is learned that Lina’s husband Ebbi organises trip to the glaciers for wealthy bankers, and the promiscuous Lina had been on the trip.

Indridason gives us a portrait of Icelandic society before the financial debacle. The bankers and financiers are buying luxurious houses with smart wooden floors, purchasing plush SUV cars, going on exotic holidays, and hiring chamber orchestras for parties; all on credit. A smug self satisfied Iceland appears proud that its financiers are buying up British high street stores and football clubs; all on credit. But alongside that is a desperate underclass of the abused,the alcoholics, and the drug addicted living in abject squalor. One of these desperate people, Andres, tries to contact Sigurdur Oli and his story is told alongside the main investigation into the attack on Lina.

Sigurdur Oli, who is missing out on the financial bonanza provided by the New Vikings, appears at first to be a less sympathetic character than Erlendur, or Elinborg, but as the novel proceeds and we learn about his interest in American sport, his relationship with Bergthora, and his incompatible divorced parents I warmed to the man. There is a particularly poignant passage where Sigurdur Oli phones Bergthora late at night hoping to repair the damage, and finds she has a new man in her life. 

Indridason also gives us some witty humour, and cutting social commentary.

He could not bear the smell of the waiting rooms and surgeries, the waiting, and worst of all meeting the doctors- though dentists were top of the list. He could think of nothing worse than lying in a chair, gaping up at one of those millionaires, while he or she grumbled about the cost of living. 

Iceland’s economic miracle may have been a mirage but this series continues to provide interesting plots, interesting social commentary  and above all great character studies. While I was reading I couldn’t help thinking about the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his quote that ‘ an independent Scotland would join fellow small, independent nations Iceland and Ireland in an “arc of prosperity”.’ 

The reality:

‘We’re up shit creek,’ he confessed. ‘This house, the car. Everything’s on a hundred per cent loan; we’re mortgaged to the hilt. We owe money everywhere.’ 

More proof if we needed it that good crime writing is based on facts, and political rhetoric is inevitably based on fiction.

Black Skies may start slowly, but it is a clever book that grows on you, and it maintains the high standards set in this series.  

When at the request of Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise I listed my ten best reads of 2012 I chose books by only three women authors. 

Icelight, Aly Monroe; The Potter’s Field, Andrea Camilleri; Prague Fatale, Philip Kerr; Outrage, Arnaldur Indridason; Another Time, Another Life, Leif GW Persson; Last Will, Liza Marklund; On Beulah Height, Reginald Hill; Hour of the Wolf, Hakan Nesser; Summon up The Blood, R.N.Morris; The Blind Goddess, Anne Holt. 

But I could easily have chosen any of these fine books by female writers in that selection.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past, Asa Larsson

The Boy in the Suitcase, Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Exposed, Liza Marklund

A City of Broken Glass, Rebecca Cantrell

And if I had managed in that time period to read any book by Fred Vargas, Karin Fossum, or Donna Leon they would probably have been included as well.

Interestingly in the last few days the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year was won by Scottish author Denise Mina for The End of the Wasp Season.

So have we entered a new Golden Age of Female Crime Writers?  Will in fifty years the current crop of writers be considered to be anywhere near the same class as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, or P.D.James.


The author Anne Holt has worked as a journalist and news anchor, as well as working for two years for the Oslo Police. She founded her own law firm and served as Norway’s Minister of Justice in 1996-1997. She always wanted to write a crime novel and had the title ‘Blind gudinne’ even before she had the story. The Blind Goddess was written in 1993 and has taken a mere 19 years to reach an English readership. Amazingly the eighth book in the series 1222 was published before this, the first, even though The Blind Goddess was a best seller in Norway back in 1993. 

If we are getting the back list of new to English readers Scandinavian crime writers as part of the Stieg Larsson effect that is fine with me; especially if they are all as good as The Blind Goddess. Unfortunately the Larsson effect resulted in the reader receiving the incorrect information on the back cover repeated in at least one review that a “shady criminal lawyer called Hansa Larsen is murdered”. The name of the murder victim is Hans E. Olsen, but actually reading the books you review, as opposed to skimming them,  always makes you susceptible to pedantry. 

A dead drug dealer is found horribly murdered by Karen Borg, a corporate lawyer, out on her early morning run. The victims face is missing, and it is not long before the perpetrator is found.

‘There’s a man sitting in the road on Bogstadaveien. We can’t get anything out of him, his clothes are covered in blood, but he doesn’t look injured.”

The young man won’t say much, but when he asks for a drink it is clear he is not a Norwegian. Soon he surprisingly asks for Karen Borg to represent him. Police lawyer Hakan Sand and Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen begin a painstaking investigation and a trying journey through Norway’s legal system. Criminal lawyer Hans E. Olsen is shot and killed and the possibility arises of the two cases being linked.  Peter Strup, a smart, smooth more experienced criminal lawyer surprisingly offers to take the now identified Dutchman’s case away from Karen. And the reader learns before the police a little information about just how far the leaders of  the drug trafficking ring are prepared to go, and that high flyers are deeply involved in the corruption. 

The story moves on past a few more bodies,  interesting court appearances and forays with the drug squad on to an exciting finish.

The Blind Goddess is a well constructed police procedural moving from one character’s perspective to another with ease. I don’t think the plot mixing the upper echelons of power and the grubby pathetic world of the drug dealers is as important as the characters. Isn’t that true of many fine crime fiction series? But that said the plot grips the reader as the police struggle with a system that gives the benefit of the doubt and more to the guilty.

There are nice cameo portraits of some minor characters, the woman Police Commissioner, a down at heel journalist, a drug squad policeman Billy T, and the corrupt lawyers, but it is Karen Borg, Hakan Sand, and Hanne Wilhelmsen who are at the heart of the story.

Lawyer Karen Borg has feelings for Hakan Sand, they were students together, although she is now in a relationship with Nils, who could make gourmet meals out of sachets of soup, while she ruined good steak .

Hard work and an incisive mind were greatly esteemed at Greverud & Co. She was only the fourth woman to have the opportunity, and the first to succeed. When she passed her exams a year later, she was offered a permanent position, interesting clients, and an immoral salary. She fell for the temptation.

The question is will Karen and the shy pessimistic Hakan ever get it together on a permanent basis. 

Of course, it might be the difference between an active police officer [Hanne Wilhelmsen] and an official of the Prosecution Service. There were many avenues of retreat for him; he could find another job art any time. Assistant secretary in the Department of Fisheries,  for instance.

Author Anne Holt is an “out”  lesbian in a relationship, so perhaps it is not surprising that she makes her leading protagonist Hanne Wilhelmsen, a lesbian. She is a brilliant detective who….had the intuition that only one in a hundred police officers has, the fingertip sensitivity that tells you when to coax and trick a suspect, and when to threaten and thump the table.

Hanne has managed the difficult task of keeping a wall between her professional and personal life. 

Hanne Wilhelmsen was at ease with herself and the world……..

There were rumours, as there always are. But she was so pretty. So womanly. And the female doctor that a friend of someone’s friend vaguely knew, that others had seen Hanne with several times, was very beautiful. They were really feminine women. So there couldn’t be any truth in it.

I had to remind myself that this was written nearly twenty years ago when most police forces were probably still bastions of male chauvinism. I also wondered if this series hadn’t made it into English because of the sexuality of the detective, but I thought it was more likely that publishers were put off by blurbs such as:

‘Like a mash-up of Stieg Larsson, Jeffrey Deaver and Agatha Christie’- Daily Mirror on 1222

The Blind Goddess is certainly no mash-up, it is a good police procedural, a well plotted, and well written book full of interesting characters, and I will be looking out for number two, Blessed Are Those That Trust, which will be published later in the year. 

London 1914: Detective Inspector Silas Quinn of Scotland Yard’s Special Crime Department has a difficult case to solve. The murder and exsanguination of a young renter [rent boy/male prostitute]. Is this just a simple case of what used to be called “queer bashing” ? Or does the draining of the young man’s blood mean something much more sinister?

Inspector Quinn, a brilliant thoughtful detective with a troubled past, and a surprising record of shooting suspects, that has earned him the nickname Quick Fire Quinn, has to investigate the murky world of male prostitutes and the men who use their services. 

This is a departure for author Roger Morris, who brought us the superb Porfiry Petrovich series set in late 19th Century Tsarist Russia. In Summon up the Blood he takes the reader right into the story evoking the atmosphere, and manners of the time. The writing is so good that the reader at times is given descriptions and details that he, or she, might not want to read over their morning cornflakes. But there is nothing salacious about this book, it is an intelligent story about a detective in a different society with very different values and attitudes. 

‘I seem to recall that feller Wilde was always puffing away on one. The type of person you or I would call a degenerate deviant, sir, though I belive the scientific term is an invert. Macadam will correct me if I am wrong.’

Macadam nodded to signal that he acquiesced in Inchball’s terminology.

‘And so, sir, I decided to begin my enquiries with those tobacconists I knew to be favoured by the brotherhood of the bum.’

‘That’s not a scientific term, I take it?’

‘Correct, sir. It’s a term used by officers in Vice.’ 

Quinn’s assistants represent two faces of pre Great War society, Inchball, an old style copper set in his ways, and Macadam with boyish enthusiasm always studying new scientific and engineering skills. This contrasts with Quinn’s lack of social skills and embarrassment in dealing with the female occupants of the house where he has lodgings. 

Behind all this was his anxiety over Miss Dillard. To begin with , he was embarrassed about being made to look as though he had run away from dinner on her account the other night.

Summon up the Blood has a varied cast of characters, and a narrative that includes the  Special Crimes Department’s black 1912 Ford Model T, Limehouse, the East End, the British Museum, bizarre aristocratic clubs, Piccadilly, the works of Oscar Wilde, opium-soaked cigarettes, autopsies, immigrants and much more. Don’t be put off by some of the dark subject matter this is a fascinating example of historical crime fiction at its best featuring a complex new detective, Silas Quinn and set in a pivotal era in world history. 

[I would hope that the publishers in future make this book available at a more realistic price. I received my copy from the author, but that has not influenced my review.]

The website of  Roger Morris. 

Part One of the Roger Morris interview 

Part Two

Part Three

Final part       
Crimeficreader’s review of A Gentle Axe, the first book in the Porfiry Petrovich series.

The rain is bucketing down outside, and I have just watched a recording of the first episode of the new BBC series of Wallander. The production team and Kenneth Branagh are getting the hang of Henning Mankell’s stories, because they successfully made this episode  really really really depressing.

So I thought I would cheer myself up by posting some more photos of Miss Marple’s England. 

There were 13 books shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger and the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction awards, and I had read nine of them. Luckily or perhaps by good judgement among those nine were both winners, and I could not disagree much with the choice the judges.

I did think that the International Dagger shortlisted novel Trackers by Deon Meyer was a great thriller, but as I have been singing the praises of Andrea Camilleri since I began blogging in 2006, the 86 year old was due to win. The Potter’s Field was as usual brilliantly translated by Stephen Sartarelli whose end notes add so much to the reader’s knowledge and enjoyment. I sometimes think those end notes would make a great reference book by themselves.


In a recent post considering that short list I wrote:

The Potter’s Field is the best and funniest offering from Andrea Camilleri in the Montalbano series for some time, and perhaps a good outside bet.

Nice that the judges agreed and the thirteenth translated book in the Salvo Montalbano series was a winner. Read my full review of The Potter’s Field here. 


The seven book Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlist had fewer outstanding books, but I hope I was fairly clear with my assessment.

My choice would be between the very clever and hard hitting Prague Fatale, and the atmospheric spy story Icelight. 

When I reviewed Aly Monroe’s Icelight I wrote:

I sometimes get irritated by silly blurbs but those on Icelight mention Graham Greene and John Le Carre and in this case I think they are justified.  The Peter Cotton series is getting better and better, and in Icelight the internecine squabbling of the security services is a prequel to the real life problems during the Cold War.

You can read my full review of Icelight here and a post about the superbly evocative book cover here. 


Congratulations to Aly Monroe and Andrea Camilleri, and the judges. 😉

The 2012 CWA Ellis Peters Shortlist contains seven books of which I have now read four. A fifth Laura Wilson’s A Willing Victim has been reviewed by Maxine of Petrona [The link is to her review] and I have taken her views into consideration in picking a possible winner of this prestigious award. Here is the shortlist of seven books. 

The Crown: Nancy Bilyeau [set in 1537]

Sacrilege: S.J.Parris [1584]

I Will Have Vengeance: Maurizio De Giovanni [1931]

Prague Fatale: Philip Kerr [1941]

Bitter Water: Gordon Ferris [1946]

Icelight: Aly Monroe [1947]

A Willing Victim: Laura Wilson [1956]

I admit to not particularly liking Tudor-Elizabethan historical crime fiction, although I did enjoy one of C.J.Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. The comments on Friend Feed that The Crown involves shenanigans in a medieval nunnery, and that fans of Dan Brown will enjoy it, create a big hurdle for this book to overcome in my mind. Sacrilege by S. J.Parris I note from an Amazon review reminds us every three pages that English people in 1584 hated foreigners, and I therefore would remove that book from consideration as well. My apologies to the authors if both these books are brilliant historical thrillers, and I have been mislead by other reviewers. If one of these novels wins I promise to read it. 😉

I was about thirteen years old when I tackled La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas [in translation] and perhaps that, and subsequently The Three Musketeers and its sequels, spoilt me for anything 16th or early 17th Century. 

My choice would be between the very clever and hard hitting Prague Fatale, and the atmospheric spy story Icelight. But the idiosyncratic I Will Have Vengeance could spring a surprise. We will know tomorrow night when the winner of Ellis Peters, and the International Dagger will be announced at a black tie dinner in The Library at One Birdcage Walk.  

While other bloggers, voracious readers all, are picking their best ten reads of the half year I haven’t read enough books to attempt that task. My total is a mere 25 crime fiction books during the first half of the year. Life’s events seem to get in the way of reading, and I have a Himalayan pile of books to read for the rest of the year. 

Of my 25 books; 15 were translated, 8 by female authors, and 8 by new authors to me. Some of my old favourites disappointed me, and some of the new authors will have me looking for their next books. Maurizio De Giovanni, Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis, Sergios Gakas, Kristina Ohlsson, and Gordon Ferris were new writers e who grabbed my interest. Maurizio De Giovanni’s I Will Have Vengeance has been shortlisted for the International Dagger and Ellis Peters Awards, which was especially pleasing as I wrote in my review that:

This is top quality crime fiction beautifully written by Maurizio De Giovanni, who incidentally does not claim pretensions to literature, and admires both Ed McBain and his compatriot Gianrico Carofiglio. It is unobtrusively translated by the experienced Anne Milano Appel and is a easy read. The story is packed with incidents and larger than life characters. It has a simple but gripping plot  that cleverly blends in with the operas. It is also full  of information for those who are not opera buffs, and is a commentary on the vast social divides that existed in the 1930s. As an amateur reviewer I am at liberty to say I really enjoyed this novel, especially the intriguing character of Ricciardi and the promise of romance for him in the future with the shy woman Enrica, who he watches through his window.

Among my “old friends” there were some excellent books from Asa Larsson, Aly Monroe, Andrea Camilleri, Gianrico Carofiglio, Arnaldur Indridason, Liza Marklund, Hakan Nesser, Rebecca Cantrell , Reginald Hill, and Philip Kerr. I still can’t understand why Indridason’s Outrage wasn’t on the CWA International Dagger shortlist. 

But surprisingly the most enjoyable book I have read so far in 2012 was one I was expecting to struggle with, but it greatly exceeded my expectations. 

Leif G.W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life: The Story of a Crime has a blurb on the back cover from Dagens Arbete telling the reader that it is ‘one of the best detective novels ever written in Sweden’, and this amateur reviewer agrees with that opinion. I really enjoyed this superb crime novel and recaptured my reading ‘mojo’ polishing it off  in four days.

Read the full review here.  

June was another successful reading month, and although I could not call it an enjoyable read Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr was my pick of the month. A clever blend of the classic locked room and country house mystery was used as a contrast to the brutality and barbarity of the Nazi regime. An eighth outing for Bernie Gunther, a flawed hero chasing a murderer among mass murderers.